What ISIL’s Baghdadi didn’t say

In audio clip, man purporting to be self-styled caliph makes no mention of rumours of his death or injury in air strike.

Seventeen minutes is a long time.

It is certainly plenty of time to get across several messages to ‎your supporters.

But in this 17-minute message from the self-styled Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, what was most interesting is what he didn’t say.

There were no mentions of the rumours that have been blowing across the desert since Saturday, that he was either killed or injured in an air strike somewhere between Mosul, northern Iraq and al-Qaim border crossing with Syria.

The audio – there are no reasons to doubt its authenticity at this time – was designed to quell those rumours by the nature of its existence.

For ISIL supporters the fact that this is an audio message, not a video, is not important: Baghdadi has spoken and that’s enough.

“Perhaps if he wasn’t injured, this might have been a video recording” is a theory gaining some ground, but there is no real evidence to suggest Baghdadi was harmed in recent attacks in northern Iraq.

By not alluding to those rumours, Baghdadi has taken what his supporters will see as the upper hand and wrestled the narrative back from the “enemies of Islam”.

This is a key strength of ISIL and its publicity campaigns: No mention of weakness is tolerated or reported.

Spinning defeats

Even as coalition air strikes intensify and the Iraqi army makes gains against the group in the oil city of Beiji and in the southern town of Jurf al-Sakhr, ISIL spins these defeats by calling them a “failing plan manifested by bombing the positions … with the purpose of preventing its advance”.

For Baghdadi, the fact the coalition hasn’t openly sent ground troops is a source of victory in itself.

Baghdadi calls out US President Obama for sending “advisers” and says this is a sign of weakness‎, and that the US will eventually have to send in troops openly to fight the group.

Indeed, that’s what ISIL wants as it is well aware that an open ground force led by the US will send recruitment through the roof among self-proclaimed jihadis from across the globe willing to join in the fight.

Baghdadi also links the pledges of allegiance to ISIL from groups in Yemen and Egypt as another sign that things are going as planned.

A constant of his messages is that several countries have rallied against ISIL. With this refrain, ‎he shares an ideology with another Iraqi, Saddam Hussein.

Sharing traits with Saddam

The former dictator claimed he won the first Iraq War by beating the coalition allied against him. “Thirty-four countries came to try and defeat Iraq, and we defeated them,” Saddam is famously reported to have said.

Baghdadi and Hussein share similar traits. Baghdadi is hoping that the Sunni Muslims of the world will unite and topple America and her allies. Saddam, when on the run in 2003, issued similar statements urging his supporters, Sunni Muslims in particular, to rally against the US occupation of Iraq.

For Hussein it was Iraq that needed to rise up. For Baghdadi it’s the Muslim Ummah, the brotherhood that needs to rise up.

Mixing fact and fiction in wartime is nothing new. The Americans are masters of it. For further proof Google “Pat Tilman” and you’ll see the lengths to which they will go to keep the world on message.

ISIL is no exception. They are painting a picture of a war they are winning, and nothing in the audio statement suggests otherwise.

But what the audio’s existence says without saying is perhaps its most crucial strength. That despite the massed forces ‎and multi-million-dollar war arsenal, the coalition has failed: Baghdadi is alive and even more defiant than before.

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