In yet another push of propaganda, Al-Hayat media, the Islamic State media wing, has released a full-length version of its documentary style film Flames of War: Fighting Has Just Begun, after the militant group teased it with a short trailer sneak preview earlier this week.
With flame graphics, black and white footage, night vision, and archive US news footage, Flames of War chronicles the ongoing insurgency of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
The 55-minute film opens with a narrator authoritatively declaring that the establishment of the Islamic State has allowed the Muslim community to “unite under one call, one banner, one leader.”
Old press conference footage shows then-President George W. Bush’s infamous post-9/11 speech declaring “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists” and his 2003 aircraft carrier announcement to the end of major combat operations in Iraq, proclaiming that, “The United States and our allies have prevailed.” Afterwards, the narrator states, “They lied, the flames were only beginning to intensify.”
This sentiment is repeated several times, including when the narrator addresses America’s current “bewilderment” over what strategy to adopt in fighting the Islamic State, saying the White House was deceitful in the past when it said combat troops would not return to Iraq. Ominously, an onscreen message states, “if you leave you will undoubtedly return soon.”
Viewers are then launched into scenes from the Syrian civil war and a very detailed historical explainer of the militant group’s foray into Syria, where the narrator says fighters from throughout the world pledged their allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. We start to see the beginnings of a militant group in formation, with black and white scenes of soldiers sat class-photo style in front of the camera, and eventually details of their massive land grab in northern Iraq that kicked off in June.
The film also criticizes media organizations such as CNN, RT and Al Jazeera for allegedly defaming the group and derides prominent Islamic scholars for their public denunciations of its practices and ideology. Hassan Abboud, the recently assassinated leader of the Syrian Islamic Front rebel group Ahrar al Sham, is depicted in one segment as an American stooge.
After nearly 50 minutes of desert vistas and behind the scenes footage of soldiers using rocket launchers, the movie unexpectedly ramps up the violence level and takes viewers to the raid on the 17th Division air force base in Raqqa. The Islamic State captured the base in August, solidifying its hold on the Syrian city. With night vision footage, the video lingers on dead or nearly dead Syrian soldiers as the militants survey their work. Celebratory chants follow.
In the final scene, the viewer is taken to a daytime scene, hosted by an Islamic State fighter with a Western accent, in which Syrian soldiers captured from the raid are seen digging their own graves.
One of the Syrian soldiers warns people to take their sons out of Assad’s army as quickly as possible, “because it’s as if Allah has blessed the Islamic State.” In the next sequence, he and his fellow Syrian soldiers are shot execution style, falling into their graves. And the Islamic State executioner, once again, affirms that the flames of war are only beginning to intensify and the fighting has just begun.
A prominent linguistics professor told The Intercept that while the fighter was probably not a native English speaker, his accent is likely from either Canada or the northern areas of Minnesota and North Dakota. The degree of fluency indicated the fighter must have either lived for an extended time or been raised in North America, as opposed to being raised by North American parents abroad. The professor asked to remain anonymous due to this being a provisional opinion based on a short and low-quality segment of audio. (The fighter begins to speak in English around 51 minutes and 15 seconds into the video.)
The final scene contains a translated message from the group’s leader Khalifah Ibrahim al-Badri (also known by nom de guerre Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi), unambiguously directed to the United States:
“Finally this is a message we direct to America…a proxy war won’t help you in [Syria] just as it didn’t in Iraq… As for the near future, you will be forced into a direct confrontation…despite your reluctance. So wait and see, for we too [will] wait and see.”
The 55-minute film, at least the second full-length movie from the group, with the use of English-narration and the focus placed upon an English-speaking fighter, appears to be a calculated attempt to solicit recruits in Western countries. And trailers had suggested the film would primarily constitute a direct message to the United States. But for the most part the threats contained within the video seem directed towards the enemies of the Islamic State within the Muslim world. In particular, promises are made of future attacks again “Nusayri forces” and “Sahwat” – a reference to Syrian regime forces and rival Sunni Arab factions.
Similar to previous videos released by the group, this film employs sophisticated videography in an attempt to glamorize the group’s operations. Slow-motion footage, filtered lenses and sound effects all combine to give the film distinctly professional production values. At one point, an Iraqi Army soldier can be seen shot with a pistol from the point-of-view of the executioner. Combined with freeze frames and visual effects, the scene seems more intended to mimic a first-person shooter video game than anything resembling actual combat. The comparison between sophisticated ISIS propaganda such as this and the types of grainy footage put out by past Al Qaeda franchises could not be more pronounced.