BAGHDAD — It is not only in America that Clint Eastwood’s Iraq war blockbuster “American Sniper” is proving controversial.
After just a handful of sometimes rowdy screenings, the film has been pulled from Baghdad’s only movie theater amid complaints from the Iraqi government — as well as viewers — that it “insults” Iraqis.
Similar allegations have clouded the film’s release in the United States, though not its box office success. Critics have hailed its gripping portrayal of real-life Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle and his exploits in Iraq as a cinematic triumph. Commentators have denounced it as being simplistic and giving a one-sided portrayal of the conflict.
In Iraq, the movie has come as a reminder of the vast gulf that divides Iraqi and U.S. perceptions of the bloody, complicated war, which left more than 4,000 Americans and well over 100,000 Iraqis dead — and is now drawing U.S. troops back.
“It glorifies Americans and makes Iraqis out to be nothing but terrorists,” said Ahmed Kamal, 27, a teacher, who downloaded the film for free on a pirate Web site because he didn’t want to pay to see a movie in which the hero refers to Iraqis as “savages.”
“I wasn’t prepared to spend money to see it,” he said. “It portrays Americans as strong and noble, and Iraqis as ignorant and violent.”
The movie also omitted to note that some Iraqis worked with the Americans, said Sarmad Moazzem, 32, who was one of them. He served alongside U.S. troops for five years in an Interior Ministry logistics division and now works as a security adviser at the theater that pulled the film.
“The film makes out that all Iraqis are terrorists — men, women and children,” he said, “whereas, actually, there are some people who loved the Americans and wanted them to stay to help rebuild our country. The movie didn’t show any of them.”
He listed numerous inaccuracies, such as the identification of Sadr City, the Baghdad neighborhood where Shiite militias battled U.S. troops on numerous occasions, as a stronghold of al-Qaeda — which is a Sunni group.
Moreover, a scene in which Iraqis, including a child, attempted to take out the sniper didn’t ring true, according to his experiences.
“No one would stick around if there was an American sniper in the area,” he said. “As soon as anyone knew there was a sniper, everyone would run and hide.”
That scene, in which a child picks up a rocket-propelled-grenade launcher, provoked a furious outburst at one of the screenings of the film. Three spectators sitting in the front row jumped up from their seats and started cursing, said Mohammed Laith, 27, who was sitting a few rows behind.
“They were shouting, ‘It’s all a lie,’ and ‘You are demeaning our culture,’ ” he recalled. After the three refused to sit down, security guards ejected them from the theater, he said.
The manager of the theater, located in Baghdad’s fancy new Mansour Mall, said he withdrew “American Sniper” last week after receiving a telephone call from a senior official at the Ministry of Culture warning him that he would face fines and possible closure if he continued to show it.
“He told me the film insults Iraqis,” said Fares Hilal, whose six-screen cinema opened last year and is the first to offer Iraqis an American-style moviegoing experience, including tubs of popcorn and the latest releases.
He immediately complied with the order, but with some regret.
“If we show it, we will be criticized. But if we don’t, we lose money,” he sighed. “A lot of people wanted to see this film.”
Nonetheless, many Iraqis seem to have seen it, mostly on Internet downloads.
And not all found it objectionable. Yasser Bakr, 17, who operates one of the mall’s carousels, was still a child when the events portrayed took place and only dimly recalls them. He said there was nothing in the film that gave him offense.
“It’s just a movie,” he shrugged. “About something that happened in the past.”
Mustafa Salim contributed to this report.