The Islamic State Billboards and Murals of Tel Afar and Mosul
04 January 2015
By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi
One of the hallmarks of the Islamic State's (IS)
methods of establishing its presence in a locality is
through the use of billboards and murals to advertise
its propaganda. This was first made apparent in IS'
prior incarnation as the Islamic State in Iraq and
al-Sham (ISIS) in which ISIS first appeared in Raqqa
in the spring of 2013 and increased its clout through
the use of billboards even as it was not the only
faction present. Indeed, ISIS only became sole ruler
of Raqqa after the outbreak of intense infighting with
Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham in the city in
January 2014: for some later billboards see this post
In Mosul and Tel Afar, ISIS was in a much stronger
position and very quickly asserted itself over other
insurgent groups. It's all well and good for the
Ba'athist Jaysh Rijal al-Tariqa al-Naqshbandia (JRTN)
to have a front group on paper for Tel Afar in the
form of a "Military Council for the Revolutionaries of
the Tribes," but nothing suggests it exercises any
real influence even if it has some actual members on
the ground. The same is true for JRTN in Mosul: as one
of my relatives who still lives in Mosul put it to me:
"They are present but have no influence. Some of them
were arrested, some of them gave allegiance to the
Dawla [IS], some of them fled."
Below is a selection of various IS billboards and
murals that have primarily emerged in Mosul and Tel
Afar as part of IS' declared "Wilayat Ninawa" ("Ninawa
Province"). This material is useful for learning more
about IS' ideals and which figures it regards as
inspiration for its ideological program.
Purportedly on the "University Bridge" in Mosul: on
right: "The Islamic State: Caliphate on the Program of
the Prophets/Prophethood." On left: "The Messenger of
God [Muhammad] said: 'Whoever dies and has not
launched a raid/operation or resolved to launch an
operation, he has died among the division of
"The Islamic State (Ninawa Province; Locality of Tel
Afar) Welcomes You."
"Together we cultivate the tree of the Caliphate"- IS
billboard in Ninawa province. This slogan has also
appeared on an IS billboard in Syria.
Reportedly from Mosul: "We only want the rule of God's
law over us." Followed by Qur'an 42:10: "And whatever
you disagree on, its ruling is to be referred to God."
Then a saying of Muhammad: "I have left for you two
orders: you will not deviate from the two things you
have adhered to: the book of God [Qur'an] and the
Sunnah of His Prophet."
Also reportedly from Mosul: "Under my foot: The Laws
of The Moment" [i.e. Man-Made Laws]: to be contrasted
with the supposedly God-given Shari'a (Islamic law)
that is valid for all times and places.
Apparently inscribed on a wall of one of the schools
of Tel Afar: a quotation from al-Qa'ida founding
ideologue Abdullah Azzam ("The martyred mujahid"): "If
you want to liberate a land, place in your gun ten
bullets: nine for the traitors and one for the enemy."
While it may seem superficially strange that an IS
mural should cite Azzam, it is not so when one
considers Azzam's relationship with Osama Bin Laden (OBL)
and the fact that IS claims itself as the true
inheritor of OBL's legacy, naming a street after him
in Raqqa. For IS, the al-Qa'ida of Aymenn al-Zawahiri
is a perversion of the al-Qa'ida of OBL.
Another Tel Afar mural, featuring a quotation from Abu
Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, who established the original Jamaat
al-Tawhid wa al-Jihad from which IS ultimately
descends, and was leader of al-Qa'ida in Iraq, another
incarnation in the line down to IS: "And this is the
spark that has been struck in Iraq, and its blaze will
grow by God's permission until the Crusaders' armies
are burnt in Dabiq." Zarqawi serves as an important
figure of reverence for IS, with a mosque project
undertaken in his name in Raqqa province. Dabiq is a
locality in Aleppo province near the town of Sawran,
forming a frontline against the rebel group Northern
Storm. Dabiq is thus currently controlled by IS and
has an IS magazine named after it. For more on Dabiq
and IS eschatology, see this article by Will McCants.
Another mural, this time quoting Sayyid Qutb, an
Egyptian intellectual godfather of modern jihadism:
"Whoever does not pay the price of jihad, will pay the
price of abstention." For an earlier example of an IS
billboard quoting Sayyid Qutb, see this from Syria.
"Oh God- allow for your Shari'a to rule in the land."
"The Islamic State: a book guides and a sword gives
victory"- familiar slogan widely used by jihadis and
Photo reportedly from the centre of Tel Afar,
featuring a broader view of IS wall murals. The one
nearest in view is the familiar IS slogan: "Remaining
and expanding," while the next two remaining
discernible ones are the previous murals discussed.
IS murals outside Tel Afar electricity administration,
with quotations from prior Islamic State of Iraq
leader Abu Omar al-Baghdadi: "Remaining [baqiya: a
word now so familiar] because it has been built from
the corpses of martyrs and cultivated [from the blood
of martyrs: not visible in the photo], and thus has
the market of paradise been convened."
From the same series as the previous image. On the
right: "Remaining because it is the dawn of the Ummah
that has done away with the oppression of the hateful
ones and illuminated the paths of the believers."
On right: "Remaining, because it is the call of the
oppressed, the mourning of the bereaved, the scream of
the imprisoned, the hope of the orphaned." On left:
"Remaining because we are certain He will not break
the hearts of the monotheists."
More quoting Abu Omar al-Baghdadi: "Remaining because
the disbelievers in all their paths and creeds have
gathered against us, together with the traitor and
coward of arbitrary opinion and innovation who has
begun slandering and attacking it, but we have been
convinced of the truth of the aim and the soundness of
IS Tel Afar mural quoting Ibn al-Qayyim (classical
Islamic theologian) on the destruction of sites deemed
'idolatrous' (NB: in cleansing Tel Afar of any trace
of its Shi'a population, Shi'a religious sites were
destroyed on these very grounds): "And it is not
allowed to preserve for one day a site of polytheism
and idols after the decision to destroy and do away
with them for they are the religious rites of
disbelief and polytheism..." etc.
Some more IS Tel Afar murals: on far-right, mural on
obligation of prayer, and to its left a saying of
Muhammad: "Whoever blasphemes against God- Almighty
and Exalted is He- God will turn it on his head in the
fire of Hell."
A familiar site to anyone who has observed the Raqqa
billboards. IS poster in unspecified location in
Ninawa province: "Muslim sister: Please embrace the
niqab in obedience to God."
* Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi is a
graduate from Brasenose College, Oxford University,
with a degree in Classics and Oriental Studies. His
research interests primarily concern Iraq and Syria,
focusing on armed groups on all sides of the conflicts
therein. He is also the Jihad-Intel Research
Specialist at the Middle East Forum. His website is