GIESSEN, Germany — Its mere presence compelled some soldiers to do an about-face and duck down another aisle, away from the latest salvo in the debate over the war in Iraq.

Michael Moore’s award-winning film “Fahrenheit 9/11” hit Army and Air Force Exchange Service shelves last week. While some shoppers showed little or no interest in the two-hour documentary, hundreds did, and shelled out $19.95 for it.

“I’m about to buy it,” Spc. Sylvester Charles of Company A, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Field Artillery Regiment, said as he clutched the digital video disc and read the back cover. “I heard it was good.”

The film, highly critical of President Bush, his administration and its decision to invade Iraq, took top honors this May at the annual Cannes Film Festival in France.

Critics expected it to fair well at the Academy Awards early next year. But that was before Moore announced last month on his Web site he would forgo a chance to win another Oscar in favor of an early public release, possibly on TV, before people cast their ballots.

“If there is even the remotest of chances that I can get this film seen by a few million more Americans before election day, then that is more important to me than winning another documentary Oscar,” the independent producer and director wrote.

Popular though it may be, the film has it share of detractors, people who view Moore as an angry man bent on distortions for political purposes.

Some servicemembers are wary, too.

“I really can’t stand the guy,” Pfc. Steve Odell said of Moore as he stood in front of a DVD display rack at the AAFES store in Giessen.

Odell, of Headquarters, Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 37th Armor Regiment, added he doesn’t care for “Hollywood celebrities who push their own political agendas.”

Moore’s movie never made it to an AAFES theater marquee. Exchange officials said in mid-August that Moore’s decision to start selling the DVD on Oct. 5 made it unprofitable for them to show it for such a limited time.

Instead, AAFES-Europe placed an order for 5,000 copies of the movie on DVD, said Army Maj. David A. Accetta, an AAFES spokesman in Europe.

When it went on sale Tuesday, business was brisk. In the first three days, AAFES sold nearly 1,800 copies.

“One of my friends told me it’s something I should look at,” Charles said.

In Giessen, where Odell and Charles are stationed, roughly half of the 210 copies at the exchange were sold, according to store manager Greg Hall.

Hall said interest in Moore’s DVD is high, though he’s noticed some soldiers approach the display with a degree of trepidation.

“We figured at least a couple of hundred people would want it,” Hall said, “but there was a little apprehension.”

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