Terror through the eyes of an Iraqi sniper

The new film, tentatively titled Iraqi Sniper, takes on Clint Eastwood's American Sniper (2014), starring Kyle Gallner (far left) and Bradley Cooper.
The new film, tentatively titled Iraqi Sniper, takes on Clint Eastwood's American Sniper (2014), starring Kyle Gallner (far left) and Bradley Cooper.PHOTO: STARHUB

PARIS • Clint Eastwood's American Sniper was a hit, but critics shot back at its jingoistic and incomplete portrait of the Iraqi war and the Iraqis who lived through it.

Now, award-winning Egyptian film-maker Amr Salama is planning a movie that will follow the mysterious insurgent shown engaged in a battle with Navy sharpshooter Chris Kyle in the 2014 film.

Tentatively titled Iraqi Sniper, Salama's feature will focus on another side of the conflict.

He was motivated to act after seeing the Eastwood movie in Cairo shortly after its release. When the insurgent sniper who had been terrorising United States troops was killed, some in the crowd cheered.

"That's intriguing," Salama said. "This is an Iraqi fighting in Iraq versus an American fighting in Iraq."

In American Sniper and Kyle's memoir, this sniper is referred to only as Mustafa and given little backstory. However, there were reports of a real Iraqi sharpshooter named Juba who became a semi-mythological figure among his countrymen at the time, with some reports saying he killed hundreds of Americans.

Salama's film, which is still in the early stages of writing, would take these reports and build a human story out of them.

He has made a career out of looking at the perspective of the "others", he said.

His latest film, Sheikh Jackson, takes a look at an Egyptian Islamist cleric who revisits his teenage Michael Jackson obsession after the American singer died in 2009.

That movie, which is due to premier at the Toronto International Film Festival next week, was personal for Salama.

"I was once religious," he said, and "I was once a Jackson fanatic."

His other films have looked at other situations that involve "outsiders" - such as a woman with HIV in Egypt (Asmaa) or a Christian kid in a Muslim school (Excuse My French).

American Sniper was controversial in much of the Arab world.

In 2015, The Washington Post reported that it had been pulled from Baghdad's only theatre after complaints that it insulted Iraqis.

"It portrays Americans as strong and noble and Iraqis as ignorant and violent," one viewer said.

In the US, there were also suggestions that Kyle, who was killed in 2013, had inflated his military record.

Salama is a fan of Eastwood as a director. He said he was not anti- American Sniper per se, but just disappointed that the director had not shown both sides of the story, like he did in World War II films Flags Of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima that came out in 2006.

Salama said he was more insulted by Kyle's book, which he noted had portrayed Arabs as savages.

While much is made in American Sniper of Kyle's battle with the Iraqi sniper, not a lot is known about the latter - if he even existed - in real life. Juba worked with the Sunni insurgent group Islamic Army in Iraq and was featured in a number of videos between 2005 and 2007.

Some claim he shot scores, if not hundreds, of US troops. Although the videos got under the skin of US troops, some regarded them as simple propaganda.

"Juba the Sniper? He's a product of the US military," Captain Brendan Hobbs told military newspaper Stars And Stripes in 2007. "We've built up this myth ourselves."

Salama has spent considerable time researching Juba, but the film is not designed to be totally historically accurate.

Information about Juba is sketchy and largely unconfirmed.

"The Iraqis made him almost like a superhero," the director said, noting that some had suggested that the sniper was not one person, but a composite character.

"My main intention is that just as people cheered for killing the Arab guy in (American Sniper), this time you will be sad for him," he added.

He would not mind any critical responses from Americans to his film. "I want debate," he said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 07, 2017, with the headline 'Terror through the eyes of an Iraqi sniper'. Print Edition | Subscribe