Team Wins Asian Cup, Captain Condemns US Occupation
By Patrick Martin
31 July, 2007
The 1-0 victory by the Iraqi
soccer team in Sunday’s Asian Cup featured a brilliant goal on
a header by Younis Mahmoud, the team’s 24-year-old captain. This
was followed by an “own goal” for the Bush administration
and its Iraqi stooge regime, which had hoped to reap a propaganda windfall
from the event.
Instead, Mahmoud told a worldwide
television audience that he dared not return to his homeland because
of the conditions created by the US occupation. “I want America
to go out,” he said. “Today, tomorrow, or the day after
tomorrow, but out. I wish the American people didn’t invade Iraq
and hopefully it will be over soon.”
Mahmoud said he would return
to the Persian Gulf sheikdom of Qatar, where he plays on a professional
team. “I don’t want the Iraqi people to be angry with me,”
he said. But “if I go back with the team, anybody could kill me
or try to hurt me.” He added, “One of my closest friends,
they came to arrest him, and for one year neither me nor his family
knew where he is.”
The Iraqi team’s unexpected
progress through the quadrennial tournament was greeted with enthusiasm
throughout the country, and many saw the national team’s effort,
uniting players of all ethnic and religious backgrounds, as a welcome
rebuff to the increasingly vicious sectarian conflict at home.
The winning goal came on
a corner kick by Hawar Mohammed, a Kurd, headed into the net by Mahmoud,
a Sunni Turkoman from Kirkuk (Ironically, Kurdish nationalist parties
are campaigning for Kirkuk, and its nearby oilfields, to be transferred
to the control of the Kurdish regional government, a demand adamantly
opposed by Turkoman and Arab groups, both Sunni and Shiite).
Goalkeeper Noor Sabri Abbas,
a Shiite, played a central role in the Iraqi team’s progress through
the field, posting four consecutive shutouts, including the semi-final
victory over South Korea where he blocked two shots in the final shootout
after a regulation 0-0 tie, resulting in a 4-3 victory for the Iraqi
team. During the tournament, Sabri’s brother-in-law was killed
in a bombing, and two other team members lost relatives during the same
Other incidents in the month-long
tournament reflected the terrible conditions in the occupied and war-torn
country. Mahmoud, the captain and final-winning star, was detained at
the airport in Bangkok, Thailand for 12 hours and nearly missed the
opening game. The entire team wore black armbands for the final against
Saudi Arabia to honor the memory of the dozens of fans killed by two
car bombs during celebrations of the semi-final victory.
The political leaders of
the US-backed puppet government in Baghdad sought to associate themselves
with the national team. Before the final, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki
promised each member of the team a $10,000 bonus. State television broadcasts
described al-Maliki making congratulatory phone calls to the team, at
a time when the television pictures showed all the players celebrating
out on the field.
President Jalal Talabani
pledged an additional $10,000 to each player and $20,000 to Mahmoud
after the victory. But Talabani admitted that it might not even be possible
to stage a welcome-home celebration in the Iraqi capital because of
security considerations. “We will receive them in Baghdad airport.
If that’s not possible, Irbil or Sulaymaniya,” he said,
referring to the main cities in the Kurdish region.
The American media was geared
up for an orgy of propaganda, seeking to use the soccer victory as a
metaphor for a military victory by the US and puppet forces over the
anti-occupation resistance. Mahmoud’s forthright opposition to
the occupation—a sentiment shared by the overwhelming majority
of the Iraqi population—did not fit that script, so it was relegated
to a near-footnote in newspaper reports by the Washington Post and New
York Times, and omitted entirely in broadcast reports by NBC, ABC, CBS
and Fox. Only Fox even reported Mahmoud’s comments on its web
site, in an AP story.
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