On the Verge of Defeat in Iraq, the Islamic State takes aim at Iran in new video

The Islamic State (IS) has released a new propaganda video aimed at the Islamic Republic of Iran and Iranian Sunni Muslims. It accuses the Islamic Republic of oppressing Sunni Muslims while tolerating Jews, threatens it with destruction, and calls on Iranian Sunnis to rise up against their government.

The video, entitled “Persia: Between Yesterday and Today”, presents a distorted version of Iranian history from the Arab-Islamic Conquest of Sassanid Persia up to the present to demonize Shi’a Muslims and the Islamic Republic. The video, among other things, falsely portrays Persian Zoroastrians as engaging in “fire sacrifice” before their conversion to Islam and states that the “people of Persia were Muslim for nine centuries” before their conversion to Shi’a Islam by the Safavid dynasty through a “policy of iron and fire”, the implication being they ceased to be true Muslims after this point. Throughout the video, Shi’a Muslims are labelled “Rafidah”, Arabic for “those who refuse”, a derogatory term used by extremist Sunni Muslims against the Shi’a for their refusal to acknowledge the legitimacy of the first three Caliphs of Islam. The video attacks the Islamic Republic, which is shown as being in cahoots with the United States and Israel, for spreading Shi’a Islam in “Asia and Africa” and accuses it of using its intelligence and security forces to infiltrate and destroy Sunni communities in Iran and the wider Islamic world. The video also attacks Islamic Republic’s tolerance of Jews and calls on Iranian Sunnis to rise up against the Iranian government.

The version of the video viewed by IranPolitik is 15 minutes long, narrated in the Persian language, and made up of a mish-mash of film clips, CG animation, and original footage. News reports indicate that a 36 minute version of the video threatens the Islamic Republic and Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei with ruin and shows the murder of soldiers, including at least one fighter who may have been a Shi’a. The video is claimed by the “Wilāyat Diyālā‎” – the branch of the Islamic State in the Diyala province of Iraq – and includes a number of individuals whose nom de guerre and accents indicate they are most likely of Iranian Arab and Kurdish extraction. It is unclear where the video was made. The video also shows a small group of men who claim to be part of the Salman Farsi Brigade – named after the first Iranian convert to Islam and a companion of the Prophet Mohammed – made up of Iranian members of the Islamic State.

The Islamic Republic has been at war with the Islamic State in Syria, where Iran has supplied the Bashar al-Assad regime with men and money, and in Iraq, where it has provided the Popular Mobilisation Forces with advisors and arms. Iranian security officials have also been cognizant of the threat the Islamic State poses within their country’s frontiers, leading them to announce a 40 kilometer “red line” extending from the Iranian border into Iraq and Afghanistan where any advance by the Sunni militants would trigger a response. Security officials have also regularly announced the destruction of Islamic State cells attempting to infiltrate and carry out attacks inside Iran. To date none of these attempts by the Islamic State have been successful as a result of the security measures taken by Iranian security forces.

It is unclear if this video marks a shift in strategy toward Iran by the Islamic State, which faces a two front war in Iraq and Syria: It is on the verge of defeat in Mosul and may soon face an onslaught in Raqqa. In August 2016, Brigadier General Ahmad-Reza Pourdastan, at the time the commander of the Iranian Army’s Ground Force, declared that “traces of the Islamic State in the Diyala province of Iraq can still be seen” and that the militant organisation was coiled to strike from Iran’s borders with Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Diyala province of Iraq, which is adjacent to the border with Iran, is also home to the “Wilāyat Diyālā‎” of the Islamic State, which claims to have created the video.

Facing defeat on all fronts, however, the Islamic State does not appear to be in a position to make good on its threats, nor is its message likely to find any popular following in Iran among the Sunni community. And further attempts to attack Iran, successful or not, are likely to bring little more than anguish for the collapsing Islamic State. Until now Iran has limited its operations against the Islamic State to the use of Iranian special forces and support for proxy forces. A future escalations by the Islamic State could result in a larger mobilisation of the Islamic Republic’s security forces which the extremist organisation would be hard pressed to withstand.