Saudi-Iraq football match in Basra kicks off new era

Iraqi national football team players take part in a training session on Feb. 27, 2018 in the city of Basra a day ahead of their friendly match against Saudi (Arabia.Haidarr Mohammed Ali/AFP)
Updated 28 February 2018
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Saudi-Iraq football match in Basra kicks off new era

Saudi Arabia will today play their first football match in Iraq for almost four decades in a historic meeting in Basra.

The game in the 60,000-seat stadium in Basra Sports City sends a defiant message after the defeat of Daesh and highlights Saudi Arabia’s rapidly improving relations with Baghdad.

The match is also of great importance for Iraqi football. The friendly is a rare international played on Iraqi soil. The country has not played full internationals at home since its 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

The last time the two teams met in Iraq was in Baghdad in April 1979. Iran was in the throes of its revolution, and in little over a year Iraq was plunged into the horrors of the Iran-Iraq war.

In Basra, a mood of excitement has swept the city with the arrival of the Green Falcons, who have qualified for the 2018 World Cup.

“For us, seeing Arab teams play in Basra was a dream,” Ammar Kitan, 56, who works for the city council, told AFP.

This dream “is not only important for Basra but for all Iraq,” said Ahmed Massoud, a 25-year-old student, because “this match against a team that goes to the World Cup will help lift the (FIFA) ban and prove that the city is safe.”

Former Iraq coach Jorvan Vieira told Arab News that the match represents a “very important moment” for football in the country.

“Saudi Arabia is a big, influential country in the region — both in football and politics — and their national team is very well respected.

“This kind of match against a strong team like Saudi Arabia will raise the profile and hopefully help FIFA see that competitive matches should be considered again.”

The authorities have said they will hand out hundreds of Saudi green flags in the run-up to kick-off.

Residents of the city have also launched a social media campaign welcoming the Saudi players called “Greens, you’re at home!”

For the Saudi team, coming from a 3-0 win against Moldova in Jeddah on Monday, the match will offer the chance to right the wrongs of 39 years ago. That match ended with a 2-0 victory for Iraq.


UN rushes aid to hunger-stricken Yemeni district

Updated 14 min 25 sec ago
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UN rushes aid to hunger-stricken Yemeni district

  • The aid push was directed at a district called Aslam where earlier this month some families were found eating leaves to survive
  • Getting relief to those in need has been complicated because international agencies are required to work from lists that are often compiled by local Houthi authorities
CAIRO: The UN and individual donors are rushing food to a desperate corner of northern Yemen where starving villagers were found to be living off leaves. Aid officials are searching for ways to ensure aid reaches those in need amid alarm that the country’s hunger crisis is worsening beyond the relief effort’s already strained capabilities.
The aid push was directed at a district called Aslam where earlier this month The Associated Press found some families eating leaves. But in a sign of the difficulties in tracking Yemen’s near-famine, conditions appeared to be as bad or worse in a neighboring district, Khayran Al-Maharraq.
On a recent day, Shouib Sakaf buried his 3-year-old daughter, Zaifa, the fifth child known to have died in the district this year from malnutrition-related illness. Sakaf prayed over a grave marked by piles of stones and tangled, dry branches from the surrounding mountain shrubs.
Zaifa was as old as Yemen’s civil war, waged between rebels known as Houthis and a coalition led by Saudi Arabia. Born in the war’s early days, Zaifa succumbed to the humanitarian crisis it has caused — widespread hunger, the collapse of the economy and the breakdown of the health system. In her final weeks, she wasted away, her ribs protruding, her face and feet swollen. At a local medical facility which did not have enough supplies, her father was told she had to be taken to a hospital further away to treat kidney complications. He had no way to pay for transportation there.
“Death came at 2:30 p.m.,” Sakaf said with a deep sigh. “Then we left.”
UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock issued a dire warning to the Security Council on Friday, ahead of the world body’s General Assembly, saying, “We are losing the fight against famine” in Yemen.
“We may now be approaching a tipping point, beyond which it will be impossible to prevent massive loss of life as a result of widespread famine across the country,” he said. “We are already seeing pockets of famine-like conditions, including cases where people are eating leaves.”
Across Yemen, around 2.9 million women and children are acutely malnourished; another 400,000 children are fighting for their lives, in the same condition as Zaifa was. This year, the UN and humanitarian groups provided assistance to more than 8 million of the most vulnerable Yemenis who don’t know when their next meal will come. That is a dramatic expansion from 2017, when food was reaching 3 million people a month in the country of nearly 29 million.
Lowcock spoke after the AP alerted UN relief officials to the villagers in Aslam district, an isolated area in Hajjah province.
After the AP report, activists launched an online campaign called: “Rescue Aslam” with bank account details to collect donations. Some 30 food baskets financed by individual donors were distributed over the past days.
The UN’s World Food Program carried out an investigation in Aslam and found that aid hasn’t been reaching all targeted beneficiaries. It has since sent trucks carrying 10,000 food packages to the district, each meant to feed one family for a month. Distribution of the aid is still pending the finalization of registration lists.
Getting relief to those in need has been complicated because international agencies are required to work from lists that are often compiled by local Houthi authorities. Critics accuse those authorities of favoritism in putting together the lists.
Stephen Anderson, the director of the WFP, said there is a “retargeting exercise” underway to make sure that “the poorest and hungriest and most marginalized people, wherever they are, are targeted first.”
The agency is introducing a biometric registration to establish a database of beneficiaries, including their finger prints to avoid forgery and duplications.
Anderson said the system “will help give us an assurance” that situations like those in Hajjah are prevented or at least minimized.
A senior relief official said local authorities have resisted implementing biometric registration and the main Houthi-run aid body, known by the acronym NAMCHA, has sought to do registration and control the database. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of fears of problems with authorities.
The conflict in Yemen began with the 2014 takeover of the capital, Sanaa, by the Houthis, an Iranian-backed Shiite movement that toppled the internationally recognized government.
The conflict has left more than 10,000 civilians dead, driven millions from their homes and sparked a cholera epidemic.