Kurdish-Shiite row erupts at Iraqi football match

Kurdish-Shiite row erupts at Iraqi football match
Zakho Sport Club. (Zakho club website)
Updated 17 December 2016

Kurdish-Shiite row erupts at Iraqi football match

Kurdish-Shiite row erupts at Iraqi football match

BAGHDAD: Two clubs from Iraqi Kurdistan announced on Saturday their withdrawal from the country’s football championship in protest at anti-Kurdish chants during a match against a Shiite club.
The match itself was briefly suspended after Irbil’s players walked off when home club supporters in the Shiite city of Najaf south of Baghdad chanted slogans associating the Kurdish regional capital Irbil in the north with the Islamic State jihadist group.
Iraqi television, which was broadcasting the match, cut the audio to block the chanting.
“We called our players off because of the slogans... which the Najaf public was chanting against Kurdistan and its political figures,” Abdallah Majid, a director of the Irbil club, told AFP. 
“This is unacceptable and has no place in sport,” he said, adding that Irbil was pulling out of the championship until “a decision is taken at the political level.”
A second Kurdish club in the Iraqi league, Zakho, withdrew in solidarity with Irbil.
The Iraqi football federation issued a statement apologizing to Irbil and calling for punitive measures to be taken over the incident.
IS fighters seized swathes of Iraqi territory west and north of Baghdad in 2014, including areas bordering autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan.
Iraqi federal forces, Shiite militias and Kurdish peshmerga fighters in mid-October launched an anti-IS offensive to try to recapture the northern city of Mosul.
But strains remain between Kurdistan and Baghdad over oil resources in northern Iraq and the scope of autonomy.
Iraq’s football federation has for years been lobbying the sport’s world governing body FIFA to lift a ban on the country hosting international games because of security concerns.