‘Fighting has just begun,’ says video issued by Islamic State-linked group

BAGHDAD—An Islamic State video that warns the U.S. not to deploy forces in Iraq appears to reflect a shift in tactics, as the militants try to broaden their appeal by portraying themselves not just as holy warriors but also as defenders against Western aggression.

The video, released late Tuesday by a media outlet linked to Islamic State, shows militants firing rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns imposed over pictures of U.S. troops and tanks under fire. It warns of the perils that would befall American soldiers if President Barack Obama ordered them into action against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

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The slickly-produced video doesn’t show the praying Muslims or illuminated Quran verses that have characterized much of Islamic State’s past digital outreach.

As the group faces criticism from pious Muslims for committing heinous violence and mass executions of other faithful, the video appears to mark a new attempt to shift focus from its marred religious credentials to a resistance group, said analysts of jihadist organizations.

“They’ve tarnished their reputation,” said Aymenn al-Tamimi, a fellow at the Washington-based Middle East Forum. “They’re still going to represent themselves as a religious force, but in terms of how they appeal to others to recruit, there is a lot more emphasis now on this image of confronting the West and the U.S. in particular.”

Mr. Tamimi said Islamic State had failed to attract the kind of fealty from the global community of Muslims that it demanded when it declared itself a Caliphate—an Islamic nation—several months ago. Instead, it has sparked widespread criticism, even from extremist Islamist quarters such as al Qaeda, whose leaders have spoken out against Islamic State and called on their far-flung affiliates to resist its rise.

Yet in the past several weeks, some jihadist groups—including Islamic Army in Iraq and supporters of Jamaat Ansar al-Islam—have closed ranks, declaring the gathering U.S. assault and its attempts to form a coalition as an attack on Islam rather than merely an assault on Islamic State fighters.

The 52-second video provides no explanation for the timing of its release. However, it was issued hours after Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee he would advise Mr. Obama to redeploy U.S. combat troops in Iraq if airstrikes didn’t succeed in rolling back the Islamist insurgents.

The White House later said the idea of U.S. troops in battle against was a “purely hypothetical scenario.”

The Islamic State’s media campaign has also attracted dueling opponents, including homemade parodies and Iraqi state propaganda.

Iraq’s state television released a promo advertisement for a new television series parodying the group. The ad is shot in the style of a classic Iraqi music video with a crooning lead singer surrounded by costumed dancers.

The promo for the series, which is to be called “The Superstitious State” in a rhyming sendup of the group’s name, jibes with popular conspiracy theories in Iraq that Islamic State is the creation of the U.S. and Israel.

In the lively promo, Islamic State’s leader hatches from an egg laid as the result of an unholy marriage between a character portraying Satan and a woman who wears a Star of David. The song is narrated by a singer dressed as an American cowboy.

The 52-second Islamic State video was released through the same group, the Al Hayat Media Center, that has issued videos showing the beheadings of two American reporters and a British aid worker. Al Hayat typically makes videos and literature aimed at recruiting non-Arabic speaking Muslims as jihadists.

Mr. Tamimi and others said the video draws heavily on the kinds of digital effects used in the latest videogames and action movies. In parts where Mr. Obama is speaking English, for example, there are no Arabic subtitles — in contrast to the Arabic translation provided during the three beheading videos that are voiced entirely in English.

Besides the unfolding montages of captured and dead U.S. troops, the sound track interweaves explosions with the chanting of Islamic State’s religious slogans. The producers alternated between frame rates in the film, a process known as “ramping,” to produce varied speeds of the same shot — a fashionable technique found in music videos and some action films.

The video includes footage of former President George W. Bush on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln in May 2003 with the now well known “Mission Accomplished” banner in the background and Mr. Obama saying U.S. troops won’t return to Iraq. It ends by showing the words, “Flames of War: Fighting Has Just Begun” followed by “coming soon.”

Hisham Al Hashimi, a Baghdad-based expert on jihadist groups who has some ties to Islamic State, said the video was a preview for a longer film set to be released in the coming days.

He said that longer film is likely to include a sequence with the beheading of a fourth Western hostage spliced in with scenes from conferences in Paris and Saudi Arabia in recent weeks to gather global support for confronting the group, he said.

“Clearly this video is intended to have some psychological effects both for Iraq and for the American military,” Mr. Hashimi said.