It’s the sheer magnitude of the slaughter that’s overstretching these groups’ resources, but ISIS’s murderous approach to the media has compounded the problem. On top of the much publicized recent beheadings of two American journalists, ISIS also has killed dozens of Syrian and Iraqi reporters. Body counts rely heavily on local news articles for coverage of incidents in towns and rural pockets far from Baghdad, and the jihadists’ seizure of up to a third of Iraq has complicated attempts to report within their areas of control.
There’s no convenient moment for a system to break down, but this timing could scarcely be more unfortunate.
The Iraqi government and ISIS’s social media propagandists have both been bandying around wild claims about the number of foes their forces have dispatched in battle, but with fewer on-the-ground sources, independent experts now find themselves poorly placed to refute many of these assertions.
In one particularly egregious instance this summer, beleaguered Iraqi authorities declared that their army had killed a highly improbable 5,000 jihadists in June and July. ISIS, in turn, laid claim to countless mostly exaggerated mass killings, including the alleged execution of 1,700 soldiers near Tikrit. (Rights groups feel it was likely about a tenth of that.)