The Islamic State’s Amaq News Agency has released a new video featuring British journalist John Cantlie, who has been held captive since he was kidnapped in Syria in 2012.
The video was purportedly produced in Mosul, one of the two de facto capitals of the so-called caliphate. An offensive against Mosul was launched by the US, the Iraqi government, and Kurdish forces in October. And Cantlie’s testimony is intended to portray the coalition in the worst possible light.
Cantlie and others who appear in the nearly nine minute production claim that the coalition’s air strikes have crippled civilian life, damaging bridges and interrupting the city’s supply of water and electricity. There is little doubt that the city has been ravaged by war. But Amaq’s propaganda is intended to shift the weight of moral responsibility from the Islamic State, which has victimized Muslims across Iraq and Syria, to the US-led coalition, which seeks to free Mosul’s residents.
Cantlie begins by explaining that Mosul used to have five bridges for its residents to use, but coalition bombs have destroyed four of them. Indeed, the bridges were bombed at the request of the Iraqi government in order to reduce the flow of the Islamic State’s vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs). Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s men claim to have launched 182 suicide bombings during the first seven weeks of the battle for Mosul. Most of these have employed vehicles, ranging from smaller cars to modified machines fitted with heavy armor.
British Army Maj. Gen. Rupert Jones, the deputy commander of Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, explained the reasoning behind the bridge bombings during a press briefing in late November.
“The intent of these operations is to reduce the effectiveness of the vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices,” Jones said. The bridge bombings and other missions seem “to be reducing the number of VBIEDs the enemy has been able to use,” he added. The deputy commander noted that the Iraqi government approved of the move, which interrupted the flow of traffic on bridges connecting east and west Mosul. Without the bridges, the Islamic State is limited in its ability to “resupply and reinforce” its fighters.
Amaq’s video portrays the bridge bombings, as well as purported strikes against irrigation and water facilities, a callous acts aimed at Iraq’s Sunni civilians. Cantlie doesn’t mention the VBIEDs, claiming that the Islamic State’s “mujahidin” are fighting far away from the bridge locations. He stands in front of the fifth and sole remaining bridge as people stream across it. Cantlie claims that lengthy delays have made civilian life difficult.
“The treacherous Crusader Coalition bombarded the Muthanna Bridge under which the neighborhood’s water pipes run, which are behind us,” one man says while standing next to Cantlie. The same man goes on to claim that the “Crusader Coalition” killed “two workers who were fixing the water pipes” and also destroyed repair vehicles.
“This issue is not just against the Islamic State,” another man says into a small microphone while seated in his truck. “It does not involve a specific individual. This includes all of the Muslims. Striking the bridge is aimed at destroying the infrastructure of the Sunni people.” He goes on to claim that mosques and telephone exchanges have been “struck,” adding that “artillery,” “mortars” and “airstrikes” against the Sunni civilians are “allowed.”
Therefore, Amaq’s video is intended to portray the US-led coalition as being anti-Sunni, with the Islamic State as the supposed sole defender of Iraq’s Sunni population. This is a consistent theme in the group’s propaganda. For example, the Islamic State’s new spokesman, Abu al Hassan al Muhajir, sought to rally Sunnis against Iran and the West in an audio message released just days ago.
It appears that the bridge featured in Cantlie’s video was bombed earlier this week. According to Reuters, the “last and oldest bridge” into Mosul was hit by airstrikes that left “two large craters in the approach roads on both sides.” A taxi driver cited by Reuters claims to have seen the jihadists filling the craters with sand, which allowed vehicles to cross once again.
This is not the first time Cantlie has appeared in a video recorded in Mosul. In March, for instance, he discussed bombings that allegedly destroyed the Islamic State’s media kiosks inside the city. Cantlie claimed the kiosks, which are a key part of the group’s plan to indoctrinate Iraqi civilians, cost just $50 to build. He taunted the US for utilizing its multi-million dollar warplanes to destroy such small facilities.