Iran and Saudi Arabia: The Battle for Hegemony

By: Hakeem Muhammad & Julius Motal4853604509_0d7b7333d2_b

A proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia is waging in the region, from Lebanon to the shores of Yemen, claiming thousands of lives and – in Iraq and Syria – dissolving borders.

Fueling the war is a historical clash between Sunnis and Shias.

1,400 years ago, when the Prophet Muhammad died, Muslims split over should lead the Muslim community. A large number of people believed that the next leader of the Muslims community should be elected. And this is what precisely followed: the Prophet’s closest companion, Abu Bakr, became the first “Caliph” of the Muslim community after he was elected.

However, a group remained that believed leadership should have stayed in the same family or with “imams” who are appointed by God. On the ground, this would translate that leadership should have passed to the Prophet’s cousin and son in law, Ali bin Abu Talib.

Sunni Muslims are those who believe the leader of the Muslim community is a person who is elected to the post, and the other group are called Shia Muslims, who believe God appoints the leader.

But how is all of this playing out in Syria? Saudi Arabia, a country that predominantly composed of Sunni Muslims, believes that Iran is trying to enact a Shia agenda in the region and eradicate Sunni Muslims. Similarly, Iran believes that Saudi Arabia’s influence on the region will ultimately underrepresent Shia Muslims. Both countries, by far the strongest players in the Middle East, have consistently proved that they are pursuing influence and hegemony over the entire region.

The conflict is most palpable in Syria, where fighters from both sects (Shias and Sunnis) are daily drawn in direct confrontation. Saudi Arabia is funneling weapons and funds to Sunni fighters in Syria (otherwise informally known as the opposition), while Iran is supporting the Syrian regime itself – Bashar al-Assad and his regime is described as Alawite, an offshoot of Shia Islam – and also supporting Hezbullah, the Shia militant group in Lebanon.

Movie Review: Restrepo

Korangal Valley or the “Valley of Death”, as it’s called by the American Forces, is home to more than a dozen villages built into the rocky faces of the mountains. It’s nicknamed so because the stationed troops get into at least one fire fight per day. “It was a hell hole,” said Specialist Miguel Cortez when he first saw the Korengal Outpost in early 2007. This valley is also the setting of the movie, Restrepo, directed by American journalist Sebastian Junger and British photojournalist Tim Hetherington.

Restrepo is not the conventional war documentary. It lacks the politicization of war and the back story. It doesn’t even indicate the filmmakers or the subjects’ ideology. It’s a simple re-telling of the 15 month deployment of the Second Platoon of Battle Company of the 173rd Airborne Brigade in the Valley.

Watching the movie, it’s evident that Junger and Hetherington got very close to the soldiers they were documenting. They have intimate scenes of the soldiers goofing around in their downtime, grieving over the dead and just trying to maintain their sense of normalcy when faced with active combat. They are not nameless, faceless men laying down their lives for the country. I also wonder about the risks and dangers faced by the two journalists. In the beginning itself the Humvee they are riding in goes over an I.E.D. and overturns. They were both also present during Operation Rock Avalanche, when the platoon had been outflanked and was under fire from all directions.

The main characters, according to me were Specialist Misha Pemble-Belkin, raised in a hippie household but who was slowly growing trigger happy; Specialist Miguel Cortez who smiles while he talks about his friends dying but suffers from nightmares; Staff Sergeant Joshua McDonough who wonders how he will readjust to life back in the U.S. and claiming that the country had no clue how to handle people like them, who had seen active combat everyday; Captain Dan Kearney, the planner who uses aggression to make his way into the Valley; and Pfc. Juan ‘Doc’ Restrepo, the medic and guitar player who makes his appearance only in the beginning of the movie.

You never really see Doc Restrepo on screen. He is one of the faces in the pub crawl and doesn’t really stand out. But as a viewer, you understand his importance in the group when they honor him by naming the outpost after him. The movie also comes full circle when the soldiers who were initially unhappy with the outpost being called Restrepo felt that the name fit the place after some time.

But I also think, the filmmakers should have included Staff Sergeant Salvatore Augustine Giunta who became the first living person since Vietnam to receive the Medal of Honor for his bravery during Operation Rock Avalanche. They had him on tape, but they didn’t use it in the final movie.

The movie is raw and uncensored about what the soldiers face in the field. There’s lots of swearing, guns and ammunitions, and never do you see the face of the enemy, whether dead or alive. That’s one thing, I feel they should have shown. Also you get the feel of how desolate that area is. You see the soldiers slowly changing over a period of time. Specialist Belkin wants his target to be closer so that he can see it being blown up and Specialist Cortez who uses a cocktail of sleeping pills because he “prefer not to sleep, not dream about.”

As an afterthought, had the movie been aired in India, all the swearing would definitely have been beeped out.

As a viewer I could understand the “fish in a barrel” feeling experienced by Captain Dan Kearney. After some time, you expect the troop to be ambushed while walking around. “It’s been to quiet,” I said to myself and then the character on screen repeated my feeling where he was expecting the same on the second day of the operation.

One thing, I think the movie glosses over is civilian casualty. It’s shown on the first day of Operation rock Avalanche when they have to fly in Lt. Colonel William Ostlund to explain to the villagers why their children and women were killed, but you never really see the troops reacting to it. They are sadder over the loss of their three friends than the ten civilian casualties.

Then again, the movie references to the soldiers admitting that they get nightmares and they’ll never be able to forget what they had seen and gone through but doesn’t really talk about their coping mechanisms.

The movie also leaves me with one question. Did they really need to go in? Their actions just led to the birth of more jihadis, as seen from a communication at the end of the movie so their success is questionable. They made a reference in the movie, that over 70 percent of the total ammunition in the country was being fired at Korengal Valley. The loss of life versus the success they had, was it worth it?

But as Junger said in a 2010 New York times interview, “Wars have always been fought over pieces of terrain that become obsolete,” he said. “Hamburger Hill, Dunkirk, Gettysburg — at the end of the day none of that terrain really mattered after it was done. But many men fought and died there just the same. It’s the story of war.”

Restrepo, a Review

The U.S. is set to leave a contingent of soldiers in Afghanistan after the new year, when the promise had been that we would fully withdraw. It’s a complicated and confusing foreign policy move that raises the specter of our military intervention in Afghanistan. It was with great zeal that I watched “Restrepo” again, to try to understand a small piece of the complicated puzzle the U.S. left unsolved.

“Restrepo” is a 2010 war documentary by Sebastian Junger, an American journalist, and Tim Hetherington, a British photojournalist. Through war footage and sit-down interviews, Restrepo follows the men of the second platoon of Battle Company during their 15-month stay in the Korengal Valley, a deceptively beautiful region that was once dubbed the deadliest place on Earth. They land in what’s known as the KOP, short for Korengal Outpost, but they push further into the valley and set up O.P. Restrepo, named for their fallen medic.

What makes Restrepo so compelling is its raw honesty. Junger and Hetherington show us the quiet moments of brotherly love with guitar playing, wrestling matches and private dance parties and the high-octane grab you by your heart firefights when you can hear but not see the enemy.

The film shows the awful complications that come with being a strange man in a strange land. An airstrike leads to civilian casualties that the men of Second Platoon have to deal with, and the brusqueness with which the captain deals with the locals is indicative of so much of how we perceive the blustering nature of American foreign policy.

Perhaps you have to be that way. Perhaps you have to cut to the point and tell an elder that you don’t fucking care because you saw the video of the now-dead guy cutting off the heads of American soldiers. By shooting straight and narrow, you can guard against clouded vision.

What sets Restrepo apart is its humanity. Junger is a skilled storyteller who’s only interest is to shine a light on something and show us what he’s found. There’s no political agenda at any point during the 93-minute run. The sequel to Restrepo titled Korengal has the subhead “This is What War Feels Like.” I hope that this is the closest anyone will ever get to feeling war.

The Real Story of War — Review of Restrepo

The typical pace of cinema leaves no room for pause. Action and dialogue are densely packed for max drama, and war movies are no exception. With long silences and scenes of soldiers doing nothing, “Restrepo” is a very different breed of war movie. There’s no loss of drama for it – in fact, the pauses makes the film more gripping than its scripted counterparts. “Restrepo” works because it’s real.

Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington’s unfiltered documentary covers 15 months in Korengal Valley, Afghanistan — considered “the most dangerous place on earth,” at the time of filming in 2007. The journalists lived alongside the second platoon of Battle Company, as they struggled to build relationships with the locals and clear the valley of insurgents.

The camera captures their challenges, amusements, dangers, and sheer boredom as the soldiers attempts to carry out their mission. It is the combination of the fear and boredom that is so striking to see in a feature film. Between unproductive “shura” meetings with the village elders and ventures into enemy territory, they spend a lot of time sitting around at the outpost. Just waiting. Strumming songs on a guitar.

“Feels like longer than forever,” sings a soldier as family photos are passed around, “I want to go back home…” The sky above the valley grows dark. Daytime brings firefights, but more often than not, the soldiers are fortifying Restrepo, the outpost named for a fallen comrade.

The fear never goes away, they say, making you run through a list of your friends who could be killed. The camaraderie is nevertheless strong in the platoon: they tease each other, cheer each other through wrestling matches, and stage impromptu dance parties.

They’re typical young guys dealing with the inescapable boredom particular to the middle of nowhere. But this is not just any middle of nowhere, it’s the most dangerous middle of nowhere on earth. The camera stays with them, from the lighter moments through battle — showing us real death, not playing-for-the camera death. It shows the danger that follows the men even once they’ve left, danger that haunts them in their nightmares, keeping them from getting any sleep. It’s the real story of war, and the pauses speak volumes.

Restrepo Review

The 2010 documentary film Restrepo gives us — an audience most likely sitting in the comfort of our homes — an idea of the horrors and hardships American soldiers endured on a day to day basis in the Korangal valley of Afghanistan during the U.S. campaign to route out the Taliban. No matter what your politics is, you can’t help but feel sorry for these men —many of them who are just boys—as they try and come to grips with the reality they face.

This documentary is ultimately a story about the humanity and brotherly love that often exists during times of conflict. The journalists and directors behind the project (Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington) have given us a perspective of these soldiers that is not clouded by politics or foreign policy which is refreshingly simple.

At times, the documentary is hard to watch but not for the wrong reasons— all the shots are from a hand held camera which adds to the chaos when fighting breaks out between the Taliban and the American soldiers. Because of the rawness of the footage, the death of a colleague in the documentary hits hard—there is no glitz or smooth editing that makes the scenes seem less real. As the audience, we are there right alongside the soldiers mourning the loss of a brother.

Despite the simplicity of the message, the film does illustrate the complexity of war—the messiness of it. We see civilians, often children killed and injured during American-Taliban fighting as well as interactions between soldiers and Afghani villagers that are painful to watch. In one scene soldiers can be heard swearing during negotiations with village elders. Yes, perhaps the Afghans present don’t understand English but painful all the same.

Restrepo is a no-nonsense, non-narrated glimpse of the hardships and uncertainty faced by soldiers at war. A definite must for anyone interested in covering such conflicts.

Restrepo Commentary- Alexis Barnes

Restrepo is an incredible example of embedding journalists so well that you forget they are there. It became apparent that photographer Tim Hetherington and journalist Sebastian Junge had fostered a relation ship with the platoon- so much so that they were able to remain like flies on the wall. The intimate moments of the documentary when the soldiers are making jokes with one another or gazing silently off into the distance, I do not feel as if I am watching a movie. I feel like I am a bystander in a private moment.

To me, there were many various juxtapositions within Restrepo. When the film first opened to show the soldiers talking and joking on a train, I believe, everything seems not serious yet. The mood is semi-jovial. Later, some of the faces in that first scene are dead. The others are bleak in their interviews, somber and downcast.

When the cameras cut to the Afghan landscape, my first thought was how beautiful the mountains and dips of the Korengal Valley appeared. At the same time, I felt as the soldiers did after the beauty of the remote landscape faded- I realized how utterly removed the platoon was in this hot zone.

Something that stood out in the film to me was Kearney’s relationship with the elders in the valley. His weekly meetings for updates and outreach were something I didn’t know soldiers did. In my mind, I guess I though troops fought, strictly, combat and then left. This platoon was trying to not only beat back the Taliban, but build a road through and, allegedly, increase resources to the residents. The elders were also met when a cow was slaughtered and when innocent children and citizens were killed during bombing. I would have liked to see more of this relationship between the soldiers and the Afghan citizens.

I do not think an audience could have gotten a better front lines view of some of the battles faced by our troops in Afghanistan. The building of the second outpost was stressful just to watch as the platoon alternated between brief sleep, to digging/building/to shooting/defending themselves against gunfire. . The doc also gave me a glimpse into the obvious and not so obvious trials faced by our soldiers.  Two of my brothers fought in Iraq and my father is a Vietnam veteran and a retired officer. I believe they all suffer from PTSD- of varying degrees. Restrepo showed the 100 percent on switch that soldiers in Korengal had to be under. Brief lapses in firefights consisted of crouching behind bags of stone rubble or plotting where the enemy resided on the mountainsides. When comrades were killed, officers are told to basically suck it up and focus that energy into retaliating against the enemy.

One scene that was especially poignant to me was in the interview with Miguel Cortez.
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As he describes how the death of his friends made him feel, he couldn’t stop smiling. It was like a nervous habit, maybe how he deals with the dark moments he has experienced, but that stood out to me.

Likewise, the Sgt. John Clinard breaking down crying when after an ambush that killed Larry Rougle was a very raw look into the brotherhood that is combat soldiers.

Restrepo Review

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As if illustrating the Afghanistan war, the opening of Restrepo was dark and almost elusive: we begin with undefined characters recounting their experiences the Korangal Valley, a chain of high mountains in north-eastern Afghanistan that was described as “the most dangerous place in the world.”

The film revolves around a group of US military members whose mission was to secure and sustain a route that goes through Korangal for local people to use. It is named after Pfc. Juan “Doc” Restrepo, a 20-year-old medic who was the first to die from the group after receiving two bullets to this neck. He bled out on the helicopter ride to the nearest emergency post.

Eventually, an outpost in the valley is named after Restrepo and eventually ends up driving the Taliban away, but the locals, expectedly, remain skeptical.

The most interesting aspect about Restrepo is how the two producers were both absent from the entire film. We never see war photographer Tim Hetherington or author Sebastian Junger. The film hinges on the experiences and stories of the soldiers, and is made more personal at times through the telling of memories and private, subjective matters.

The least interesting – and almost nauseating – aspect about the film was watching the way Capt. Dan Kearney speak to a group of aging, decrepit local elders. His overweening rhetoric filled the room with overpromises. “We can make you guys richer, make you guys more powerful,” Kearney said. “I’ll flood this whole place with money and with projects and with healthcare and with everything.” The translator followed suit in Pashtun. The elders didn’t say a word – they just listened.

Thoughts on Restrepo

Restrepo is a 2010 documentary film following the 15-month deployment of an American military platoon in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley, a notoriously dangerous place. The access that journalists Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington had really provided a unique and unseen view of what prolonged combat looks like. There were a few themes that stood out for me in the film.

Most prominent was the obvious disconnect between U.S. troops and the Afghani locals. Capt. Dan Kearney mentioned that part of his role was to win over the populace and partner with them to help drive out insurgents in the area. But it was obvious that that would be an uphill battle, much like their efforts to secure the valley. The film showed scenes from shuras, weekly meetings held with Afghani elders. Beyond the obvious language barrier, it was evident that there was only so much each side was willing to yield to each other. The mutual suspicion and fear was thinly veiled. Winning the trust of those you naturally view with suspicion is difficult and I wondered what incentive there was for Afghanis to trust the troops and what other ways troops could endear themselves to the populace. In one of the scenes, Capt. Kearney is telling the elders of the benefits of helping them—money, health care, jobs—while the camera focuses on one of older men fiddling with a Capri Sun juice pouch, trying to figure out where to put the straw. This seemed indicative of the relationship between the Afghani and the US troops: they were in the same room, but coming from completely different realities and not really on the same page.

In another tense scene, the elders are expressing their frustration about a local who was detained. They want him to be released. Kearney tells them that he witnessed evidence of the man beheading people. He then says “I don’t f**king care” to their continued protests. He sees terrorists, they see a community member, and there is no middle ground. I wondered if this was the tenor of similar conversations in the region and if that is why local-troop relations are the way they are in Afghanistan.

Another theme was the emotional and psychological turmoil these troops face. Spec. McDonough mentioned that the military had their hands full figuring out how to deal with them because they had just returned from 15 months of heavy fighting in a hotly contested, isolated area. In one scene, a soldier talks animatedly about being shot at and the high it provides. The videographer asks “How’re you gonna go back to the civilian world?” To which the soldier says “I have no idea.” If anything, Restrepo highlights the need for specific services for these troops when they return. We can’t ignore the reality that these men are facing scenarios we cannot begin to imagine and need appropriate outlets for processing trauma for years to come. It seems irresponsible to deploy these people without having these systems in place when they return. The few scenes showing the troops goofing around, dancing or singing, were sort of an odd juxtaposition but helps us realize how in that situation they have to find release and happiness anyway they could.

For me, the film gave a snapshot of the difficultly of deployments, the odds troops face, particularly with cross cultural relations, and how unnatural war and its consequences are.

Restrepo Review

One of the lasting lines that stays with me from this film is when one solider asks, “What are we doing here?” I think when we first entered Afghanistan many people believed it was justified. It was only years in and many lives lost later that we finally asked the same question.

This documentary is interesting and different for a documentary because it does not include experts or figure heads. There’s not even an interview with a general.

When entering the Korengal Valley, one of the main characters explains that he purposefully didn’t read up about the area he was being deployed to to have an open mind. In a sense, the documentary does the same and puts you in an area that you know nothing about besides the public’s notion of the dangers in Afghanistan.

In war, I think the public believes that we have grown past the times of First World War filled with no man’s lands. But, this shows that in war we will always have these danger zones that soldiers are thrown into and forced to battle and lose all for the sake of America. There’s a big distinction between hearing that we lost a certain amount of soldiers in Afghanistan today and to actually see a day in life where soldiers die.

In the film, the reality of the constant shoot-outs, danger and fear is prevalent and exhausting. In one part, a solider was describing that U.S. intelligence says that the platoon is being monitored and watched so while walking they anticipate an attack. What followed was an attack that took the viewer on an inside look of what is happening inside a tank and then outside. A soldier’s body laid on top of the tank and both the anticipation of the attack and the reality and death combined for me in that powerful moment.