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Popular Turkish movie portrays American soldiers as brutal killers

BERLIN—A Turkish-made film that portrays American soldiers in Iraq as brutal and callous killers is setting attendance records in Turkey and has just opened throughout Europe.

From the opening seconds to the dramatic conclusion, the movie, "The Valley of the Wolves—Iraq," portrays Americans as wearing the black hats.

In one scene, an American doctor, played by actor Gary Busey, is furious because troops keep killing Iraqi prisoners before they reach the Abu Ghraib prison. The doctor's problem? If the Iraqis are dead, he can't harvest their organs to send to Israel.

The movie, the most expensive production in Turkish film history, has been a runaway success in Turkey since it opened Feb. 3. Would-be viewers must wait weeks for tickets. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, according to Turkish press reports, recommended the film to friends after a private screening. His wife noted, "It's a beautiful film."

It's not clear how well the film will do in its Europe-wide release. No weekend box-office figures are available. Theaters showing the film in Berlin were packed, managers said, but much of the crowd was of Turkish descent. The fact that the film carries subtitles will discourage Germans, who prefer dubbing.

American military officers have advised troops in Europe to avoid theaters showing the film and not to discuss it with strangers, though interviews with filmgoers here found little anti-Americanism.

"This movie isn't about how horrible Americans are," said Beyhan Haci, 60, a Turk who's lived in Germany for years and has seen the film twice. "It's about the horrible mistakes the American government has made in Iraq."

Analysts in Turkey say that attitude isn't prevalent there.

"American soldiers are the bad guys around here, no question," said Sedat Laciner, the director of the International Strategic Research Organization in Ankara, Turkey's capital. "But we are not so different in our attitudes than much of the rest of the world. And remember, Turkey is far less anti-American than any country in the Middle East besides Israel."

The movie is standard Hollywood action-adventure fare, but with the villains wearing the Stars and Stripes. The heroes are dapper and kind; the Americans are slovenly, sadistic and stupid. An American who questioned why a smiling comrade is spraying a metal container full of Iraqi prisoners with bullets is quickly killed.

Some of the incidents in the film draw on actual events, though they're portrayed in such a way as to impose the worst of motives on the Americans: American soldiers guffaw as they set dogs on prisoners at Abu Ghraib, lie in wait so they can target wedding guests when they celebrate with gunfire and open fire on a mosque just as the call to prayer is sounded.

Other scenes portray Americans as cartoonishly evil. When confronted by the Turkish hero, the main U.S. villain, played by American Billy Zane, surrounds himself with little children, saying he knows the hero's "weak spot."

Yusuf Kanli, the editor in chief of the Turkish Daily News, said the film is grounded in a real event known as the "bag incident," which cemented the movie's popularity in Turkey.

"Abu Ghraib is a deep wound, but it's war, and war is never clean," Kanli said. "But what happened in July 2003 can never be forgotten by any Turk."

In that incident, U.S. troops arrested 11 Turkish special-forces officers in northern Iraq and walked them from their headquarters with bags over their heads. It was considered a bitter betrayal by a trusted ally. Turkish newspapers dubbed it the "Rambo Crisis." Recent opinion polls rank it as the most humiliating moment in Turkish history.

After this scene, the film portrays the suicide of one of the Turkish officers. Just before committing suicide, the officer writes a letter to Polat Alemdar, a fictional Turkish secret agent from a popular television series who's a cross between James Bond and Rambo, and asks him to "restore Turkey's honor."

The remainder of the film is about Alemdar's efforts to do so by confronting U.S. evil in Iraq.

Fadi Hakura, who studies Turkish politics and culture in London for the British research center Chatham House, said that while "the bag incident" continues to rankle in Turkey, most Turks believe in improving relations with the United States. He noted that many Turks attend college in the United States, including the children of Erdogan, the prime minister.

"There is a noticeable shift in attitudes since the start of the war in Iraq," he said. "But I wouldn't call it anti-Americanism as much as a reflection of a great deal of anxiety about what the United States is doing in the region."

Others agree, noting that attitudes aren't so much anti-American as they are anti-Bush administration or even anti-Western. Several people pointed to the protests throughout the Islamic world over cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that were first printed in a Danish newspaper as further evidence of poor relations between traditional Western and Eastern cultures.

Still, as an older man leaving the film told the British Broadcasting Corp. in Istanbul on Monday, "If I see an American when I get out of here, I feel like taking a hood and putting it over their head."


(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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