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Research Paper

Nine Bullets for the Traitors, One for the Enemy: The Slogans and Strategy behind the Islamic State's Campaign to Defeat the Sunni Awakening (2006 - 2017)

07 Sep 2018
Long read by Craig Whiteside

The Islamic State is infamous for its sophisticated media campaigns, such as the one that inspired a large-scale migration of supporters to its so-called caliphate. Much less attention has been paid to its propaganda targeting local audiences, which tends to be more difficult to access and decipher. This case study examines a decade-long campaign to poison the use of the term “Sahwa” (Awakening), as part of a larger effort to discredit and delegitimize all future Sunni rivals of the Islamic State in the areas of its core caliphate and non-contiguous affiliates. Using primary sources, this paper traces the development of a strategy that skillfully integrated a long and patient campaign of subversion and terror operations with a consistent information campaign that reduced local support for Sahwa rivals and fueled the rise of the Islamic State’s caliphate. This information campaign displayed a skillful manipulation of emotional scripts – particularly that of the race traitor - to reshape identity construct among Sunni Iraqis, one that found strong appeal during a period of increased sectarian tensions after 2010. This paper builds on the work of the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism - The Hague (ICCT) research scholars on the importance of in-group manipulation in extremist messaging as part of the larger Counter-Terrorism Strategic Communications Project.