As Iraqi forces struggle to pin back the Islamic State (IS) group on the ground, Baghdad is taking its war against the extremists to the airwaves with a television comedy series.
The usually elusive Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is portrayed prominently in the show, whose promoters say that ridiculing the terrorist leader can help dent his aura of almost supernatural villainy.
The fear factor — fed by online videos of mass executions, beheadings and abductions — has been a key aspect of the strategy of the group formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, often handing it victory before the battle had even started.
The goal of the show is “to remove this phobia that has taken root in a lot of people’s minds,” lead supervisor Thaer Jiyad told reporters on the set between two scenes.
However, if the show is Baghdad’s new weapon in the war against the group, then its very first shots were a friendly-fire blunder that sparked controversy even as the series premiered on Saturday last week.
The trailer that Iraqiya state TV had been showing several times a day for weeks plays on a belief widely held in Iraq that the Islamic State group was created by the CIA, Israel and Persian Gulf monarchies to sow chaos.
With the US now leading an aerial bombing campaign which also involves several Persian Gulf countries against the group in Iraq and Syria, the Iraqi Media Network production company had to order a last-minute reshoot.
The first version of the trailer, which is still widely available on the Internet, opens with a cartoon-like devil character brandishing a fork leading a column of extremist fighters through the desert.
He is met with open arms by an American caricature in cowboy attire who leads him into a tent for an arranged marriage to a Jewish princess sporting a large Star of David, who is escorted by a woman whose sunglasses and bright green pantsuit are an unmistakeable reference to Qatar’s first lady, Sheikha Mozah.
She and the cowboy were dropped from the new version of the opening clip for the series, whose title loosely translates as State of Superstition and is a play on the Arabic word for caliphate.
Despite the show’s declared goal of encouraging Iraqis to overcome their fear of the terrorists, the thought of possible retribution for mocking the terrorists caused a collective bout of stage fright among the cast.
However, those who stuck with the project feel they are participating in the war effort, director Ali al-Qassem said.
“We all have a duty to defend this country. We are not good at using weapons, but we can also help defeat them through our work,” he said.
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