Iraq-Iran football match prompts awkward silence from Tehran-backed politicians in Baghdad

Iraqi fans cheer on their team inside the Al-Maktoum Stadium in Dubai. (AN photo)
Updated 16 January 2019

Iraq-Iran football match prompts awkward silence from Tehran-backed politicians in Baghdad

  • Iraqi official says failure of some politicians to get behind Iraqi team “embarrassing”
  • Many criticized Iran-backed political leaders in the build-up to the match for remaining silent

BAGHDAD: A much-anticipated football match between Iran and Iraq on Wednesday ended in an anticlimactic 0-0 draw. But in Baghdad, the Asian Cup clash proved fertile ground for Iraqi fans to poke fun at the crisis-ridden new government and express their rejection of Iranian influence in their country.

Many criticized Iran-backed political leaders in the build-up to the match for remaining silent and not encouraging the Iraqi national team against Iran.

Some even accused forces sponsored by Tehran of supporting the Iranian team instead of their own national players.

The game in Dubai was played against the backdrop of a tense political stand off in Iraq between pro and anti-Iran parties.

Iran has sought to deepen its influence in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. It supports armed factions and political parties, and increased its military involvement during the Daesh occupation of large parts of the country.

Iran-backed parliamentary blocs have been at loggerheads with rival groups for control of key government positions since an election in May.

Government figures and many MPs remained silent about the match, despite racing to encourage and congratulate the national team during previous games.

One senior Iraqi official told Arab News that the failure of some politicians to get behind the Iraqi team was “embarrassing”.

“Most of our political leaders have been silent as they are all busy praying that the Iraqi team will not win,” the official said. “How can they congratulate Iraqis on a victory against Iran?” he added sarcastically.

Fans were similarly bemused, posting scathing comments on social media.

“Today is the match between our team and the team of our lords,” Jaafar Al-Kinani, wrote on his Facebook page. “We ask God to help us determine which team we have to support.”

“I will support the referee. I cannot encourage any of the teams for fear of angering the other team,” Mustafa Nassir, wrote on his page.

Other fans posted more sincere calls for Iraqis to get behind their team despite the politics.

“All Iraqis will encourage the Iraqi team, even those close to Iran,” Ziyad Al-Dulaimaim, an activist from the Sunni-dominated western province of Anbar, wrote. “In 2007, our regions were under Al-Qaeda militants’ control and when the Iraqi team won the championship, everyone took to the street to celebrate, including the gunmen.”

Both Iraq and Iran had already qualified for the next round when they played on Wednesday. But a win against a strong team like Iran would have revived Iraqi hopes that they could reach the final.

In the build up to the match, many of the giant screens in Baghdad replayed previous Iraqi victories over Iran.

The last was in 2015 in the semifinal of the same tournament, when Iraq won in a penalty shootout. 

Cafes and clubs prepared for the match by offering free entry for families and decorating their facades with Iraqi flags. Thousands of Iraqis watched the match outside on the streets.

Both Iraq and Iran have won the Asian Cup in recent years. Iraq famously won in 2007 just four years after the fall of Saddam Hussein in a victory that came as the country was wracked by violence.


Libyan navy says more than 300 migrants rescued

Updated 28 min 50 sec ago

Libyan navy says more than 300 migrants rescued

  • 128 Sudanese were in the boats, in addition to migrants from Chad, Egypt, Niger, Benin and Eritrea
  • It came days after Libyan navy patrols “rescued 278 migrants on board four inflatable boats

TRIPOLI: The Libyan navy said Sunday 335 migrants had been rescued and one body recovered in separate operations off the coast, as they tried to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe.
Nine children were among 57 migrants in a wooden boat rescued Saturday about 40 nautical miles from the town of Zuwara, west of Tripoli, navy spokesman General Ayoub Kacem told AFP.
He said they were from Ethiopia and Egypt.
It came days after Libyan navy patrols on Tuesday “rescued 278 migrants on board four inflatable boats northwest and northeast of Tripoli,” Kacem added.
The operations took place off the coasts of the cities of Khoms, 120 kilometers (75 miles) east of Tripoli, and Sabratha, located 70 kilometers west of the capital.
According to the statement, 128 Sudanese were in the boats, in addition to migrants from Chad, Egypt, Niger, Benin and Eritrea, including 35 women and 11 children.
One body was also recovered by the coast guard.
Libya, which has been wracked by chaos since the 2011 uprising that killed dictator Muammar Qaddafi, has long been a major transit route for migrants, especially from sub-Saharan Africa.
In general, migrants rescued at sea are first met by humanitarian agencies that provide medical care and food.
They are then taken into the charge of the body working to combat immigration at the interior ministry of the UN-recognized Government of National Accord.
On August 9, the Libyan navy accused the authorities of failing to manage migrants rescued at sea, claiming that it could be forced to let people go free once brought back to land.
Despite the risks, migrants continue to attempt to reach Europe by sea, preferring to take their chances than stay in Libya, where they are subject to abuse, extortion and torture, according to humanitarian organizations.