Saturday, July 14, 2007

Sunni insurgents in Iraq are spreading their message of violence to the Arab and Muslim world via underground videos, writings and songs on the Internet, according to a Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty report.

“There is rapt attention to the importance of media” among Sunni militant groups as they engage in sectarian violence with Shi’ites and oppose the U.S.-backed Iraqi government, said Daniel Kimmage, an RFE/RL analyst who co-authored the report “Iraqi Insurgent Media: The War of Images and Ideas.”

Individuals with computers and Internet connections are using simple software programs to compile videos of roadside bomb attacks and gunbattles, set them to songs promoting jihad, and share them with countless people, according to the report released in late June.

“It’s virtually impossible to tell” who is maintaining the Web sites and creating the content for them, Mr. Kimmage said Thursday. Some Web sites have existed for a few years, while others remain in operation for only a few months before they shut down for whatever reason.

One video compilation of bombings and attacks, called “Top 20,” is described as a “greatest hits” collection. “They say it’s to encourage healthy competition among insurgent groups,” Mr. Kimmage said.

Many videos start on Web sites with a small audience, but are quickly picked up by others until they become widely viewed. The report highlighted one example from a few months ago of a video depicting a sniper shooting U.S. soldiers in Baghdad, which was eventually aired on Al Jazeera television, a major Arab-world news channel.

“That really sends a message to the consumers of the media,” said Kathleen Ridolfo, who wrote the report with Mr. Kimmage. “It shows how channels like Al Jazeera do their part to support global jihad.”

The authors said that most Sunni insurgent videos and articles contain jihadist language — words like “crusaders” and “infidels” — to appeal to an audience beyond Iraq’s borders. This language was introduced to Iraqi insurgents by groups like al Qaeda, Ms. Ridolfo said.

Sunni insurgents are also producing a huge number of press releases meant to glorify terrorism and describe in detail individual attacks on Shi’ites, Iraqi police and U.S. soldiers, according to the report. Eleven major groups issued almost 1,000 statements in March, or about 30 every day.

The press releases, which even small groups can create, are intended to demonstrate insurgents do not think of themselves as “ragtag guerrillas,” Mr. Kimmage said, but rather “a serious military force that is confronting the U.S. military.”

Most press releases exaggerate the number of American deaths insurgents caused by their attacks. The authors estimate that Sunni insurgent groups claim to have killed between 25,000 and 35,000 U.S. soldiers, when the real number of deaths is around 3,600.

While the report focuses entirely on Sunni insurgents, who represent the country’s minority religious group, the authors said they hope to eventually conduct a similar study of Shi’ite media.

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