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.


White House Mideast team holds talks with Jordanian king

Keeping spirits alive Palestinian youths play with rollerblades by walls covered with graffiti at the sea port in Gaza City on Tuesday. AFP
Updated 20 June 2018
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White House Mideast team holds talks with Jordanian king

  • The US has been trying to rally support for projects to rescue Gaza’s economy, which has been weakened by an Israeli-Egyptian blockade, while continuing to isolate Hamas
  • Jared Kushner’s team plans stops in Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. No talks with the Palestinians are scheduled, though the Americans have left the door open to meeting with them

AMMAN: President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, kicked off a swing through the Middle East on Tuesday, meeting with Jordan’s king as part of a broader effort to lay the groundwork for an expected Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.

Kushner and White House envoy Jason Greenblatt held talks with Jordan’s King Abdullah, a key US ally.
A White House statement said the talks focused on US-Jordan cooperation, the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip and the US efforts “to “facilitate peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.”
US officials have said their peace plan is near completion and could be released this summer. But it faces resistance from the Palestinians, who have cut off ties since Trump recognized contested Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last December and moved the US Embassy in Israel to the holy city last month. The Palestinians, who seek Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem as their capital, accuse the US of siding with Israel in the most sensitive issue of their decades-long conflict.
Kushner’s team also plans stops in Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. No talks with the Palestinians are scheduled, though the Americans have left the door open to meeting with them.
The Palestinians seek all of the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip for an independent state. Israel captured the territories in the 1967 Mideast war. It withdrew from Gaza in 2005, and Hamas militants seized control of the territory two years later.
The US has been trying to rally support for projects to rescue Gaza’s economy, which has been weakened by an Israeli-Egyptian blockade, while continuing to isolate Hamas. The US, Israel and Western allies shun Hamas as a terrorist group. Details of the plan have not been released, but Palestinians fear they will get little more than a symbolic foothold in Jerusalem. They also fear that aid to Gaza will help strengthen Hamas’ control over the territory.
Jordan also has a stake in east Jerusalem, serving as the custodian of major Muslim and Christian shrines there. Jerusalem’s walled Old City, captured and annexed by Israel in 1967, is home to Muslim, Christian and Jewish holy sites.
Abdullah has also rejected Trump’s moves in Jerusalem. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refuses to relinquish any part of the city.
Netanyahu traveled to Amman on Monday for a surprise meeting with Abdullah, telling the king that Israel remains committed to the status quo of the holy sites in Jerusalem.
Abdullah told Netanyahu that the fate of Jerusalem must be determined in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and that a solution should be based on establishing a Palestinian state, with east Jerusalem as its capital, on lands Israel captured in 1967.
Palestinian officials fear the Trump administration plan will leave them with a mini-state in the Gaza Strip, parts of the West Bank and a foothold in Jerusalem. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has said he will reject any plan being floated by the Trump team, arguing that the US has forfeited its role as mediator because of decisions seen as pro-Israel.