BAGHDAD — First they imposed tough restrictions on Internet usage and cellphone networks in Iraq's second-largest city. Now Islamic State militants appear to be targeting another staple for residents there: television.
In a video released Wednesday, the extremist group announced a ban on satellite television in Mosul, which it has controlled since June 2014. The video shows the militants rounding up scores of satellite dishes and receivers and crushing them with steamrollers and sledgehammers.
According to the bearded militants shown speaking in the video, the campaign is to prevent good Muslims from being “brainwashed” by the sinful images propagated by “the infidels.” The Islamic State is an extremely conservative organization that forcibly veils women, and its members in the video express particular concern about the threat to modesty posed by images of women who are uncovered and wearing makeup.
Depriving Iraqis of their beloved satellite entertainment is no small issue. Most, if not all, placed at least one dish on their homes with the rough-and-tumble freedoms that followed the U.S. ouster of Saddam Hussein in 2003. They rely on the images beamed from space for their news, soap operas and sports.
Analysts say that a move to ban something that residents of Mosul cherish so much can mean only one thing: The Islamic State is increasingly desperate as it loses territory in Iraq and Syria.
“They’re scared, paranoid, fearing what is coming for them next,” said Nabil Jasim, a professor at Baghdad University’s college of media and journalism who monitors the group’s slick propaganda videos. “They want to cover up their mounting failures, to stop people from seeing the group’s problems on their TVs. They fear that if residents see the losses in battle, they could be inspired to rebel.”
The campaign comes as Iraqi forces, backed by U.S. airstrikes, wage a major assault on the city of Fallujah, threatening to drive the group out of one of its most important strongholds. Iraqi authorities have been broadcasting reports about fleeing Fallujah residents expressing anger at the brutal Islamic State rule over their city, which the group seized in January 2014 and where its fighters initially drew support from locals.
Mosul — the Islamic State’s crown jewel — appears to be the next target for Iraqi forces, who have captured a string of major cities such as Ramadi and Tikrit from the group.
Officials estimate that the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, has gone from controlling nearly 40 percent of Iraqi territory to less than 20 percent. Losses in Syria have been smaller but still significant.
The campaign against satellite television began last month, according to the group. For a year, analysts say, Mosul’s cellphone network has been mostly disabled by the group.
Last month, militants began collecting personal data on Internet users in the city, said Suha Oda, an activist originally from Mosul who is critical of the Islamic State.
Speaking by telephone from Iraqi Kurdistan, she said the group has been threatening to cut off electricity to businesses and residences in Mosul that do not hand over their satellite dishes and receivers. The deadline for doing so is the beginning of Ramadan, which starts this month, she said.