World Cup banner in Fallujah sparks fears of Qatari interference in Iraqi elections

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Political poster rises in Fallujah. (Photo/Supplied)
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Political poster rises in Fallujah. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 24 September 2019

World Cup banner in Fallujah sparks fears of Qatari interference in Iraqi elections

  • Fallujah is in Anbar province, one of the largest Sunni-dominated provinces in Iraq

BAGHDAD: The sudden appearance of an apparently politically motivated advert for the 2022 Fifa World Copy is causing anger and concern in Iraq. Many fear that the poster, featuring an image of Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim Al-Thani, is an attempt by some Iraqi political forces to curry favor with Doha and attract financial and political aid in the run-up to provincial elections next year.

The Iraqi Ministry of Sports and Youth and local authorities in Sunni-dominated Fallujah were surprised on Monday morning to find the large banner hanging at the northern entrance to the city.

Set against a purple background, similar to the color of Qatar’s flag and the uniforms the country’s soccer team wears, it features an image of Sheikh Tamim wearing a blue suit and holding a soccer ball. Beside him is the logo for the 2022 World Cup, which Qatar is hosting, and the words: “The Qatar World Cup is the pride of the Arabs.”

Iraq has been one of the main battlegrounds between Iran and the US since 2003. Each side controls dozens of armed groups and has political allies in the country. Qatar, which has turned into the Iranian camp since last year, is trying to win over the Iraqis and seek a foothold on the ground. Political analysts and observers said the appearance of banners such as the World Cup advert is an attempt by certain Iraqi political parties to show their loyalty to the emir and encourage Qataris to get involved financially and politically in Sunni-dominated areas.

It has angered many Iraqis, who accuse the Qatari regime of supporting terrorist groups that have killed tens of thousands of Iraqis in the past 16 years. 

Fallujah is in Anbar province, one of the largest Sunni-dominated provinces in Iraq. Sunni political forces there are battling to gain support as they prepare for provincial elections due to be held across Iraq in April.

Gaining the votes of Anbar residents means cutting half way to control local governments in Sunni-dominated parts of western and northern Iraq. The appearance of posters and banners such as the World Cup advert is an attempt to secure Qatari financial aid and political support, analysts said.

“Whoever is behind this, the intention is very clear: It is a call for financial and political support in preparation for provincial elections next year,” said Sarmad Al-Bayati, an Iraqi political analyst.

“Anbar is the focus of Iraqi Sunni politicians, and those who control it will get the attention of Baghdad and be able to impose their vision on the rest of the Sunni areas. Anbar is the key to forming the long-waited Iraqi Sunni region.”

Federal authorities in Baghdad and local authorities in Fallujah denied having any involvement with the banner and said they consider it a “violation” of international sports charters and an “unacceptable political exploitation” of a global event.

“The issue is purely political,” said a source close to the Iraqi Minister of Sport and Youth, who declined to be named. “According to international sports charters and international laws, no party can use any political or religious symbols to announce the World Cup or promote any of its activities.

“This (banner) is a violation of all these charters and laws and not suitable for sport as it strikes a chord that does not serve sport.”


Juventus coach Sarri: Cristiano is in another class

Updated 20 January 2020

Juventus coach Sarri: Cristiano is in another class

  • The 38-year-old is the only player to have scored at least league 15 goals in each of the last 14 seasons

MILAN: Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to form has coincided with Juventus taking a firm grip on Serie A.

Ronaldo did not score at all in November, but he scored twice as Juventus beat Parma 2-1 on Sunday to take his tally to 11 in his last seven league matches.

The win also put Juventus on course for a record-extending ninth straight Serie A title as the Bianconeri moved four points above Inter Milan. They were two points behind the Nerazzurri a month and a half ago.

Ronaldo has struggled with injury this season and missed three Serie A matches, playing through pain in others.

The 38-year-old Portugal forward has nevertheless scored 16 goals in 17 matches, becoming the first Juventus player to have that many goals after 20 matches since Omar Sivori in 1960.

Ronaldo is also the only player to have scored at least 15 goals in one of Europe’s top five leagues in each of the last 14 seasons.

“Cristiano is in another class,” Juventus coach Maurizio Sarri said. “Sometimes he poses you a little bit of a problem but he will solve 100 others for you.”

While Juventus managed to grind out results in November when Ronaldo wasn’t scoring, Inter struggle when their top scorers are not on form.

There have been three matches since December where neither Romelu Lukaku nor Lautaro Martínez have managed to find the back of the net. All three ended in draws.

The latest was a surprise 1-1 result at relegation-threatened Lecce on Sunday.

That is also down to a general drop in pace in the team as, prior to that, Inter had managed to win the previous four matches where Lukaku and Martínez didn’t score.

“The final result stems from the fact that we’re a team that needs to go at 200 kph. We cannot afford to be off the pace,” Inter coach Antonio Conte said. “It’s evident that if we go at an average pace, if we go into cruise speed, we become a normal team and aren’t able to get a result.”

Substitute

Mario Balotelli’s match lasted only seven minutes on Sunday and he could now find himself with even less playing time in the coming weeks.

Balotelli came on as a substitute in the 74th minute of Brescia’s 2-2 draw against Cagliari but shortly afterward was shown a yellow card for a high tackle and then immediately shown a second after repeatedly swearing at the referee.

Depending on what referee Antonio Giua writes in his report, Balotelli could be suspended for several matches.

The forward will certainly miss Brescia’s next match, against former team AC Milan.

“I think the yellow card was too harsh. Mario didn’t feel it was right, and his protests didn’t seem excessive to me,” Brescia coach Eugenio Corini said. “It’s a pity because he came on with the desire to make us win the match.”

Balotelli was banned for the first four matches of the Serie A season following a red card in his last match with Marseille last season.

“It’s incredible how one episode can always drastically change from too negative or too positive everyone’s opinion on the character or professionalism of a person,” Balotelli wrote on his Instagram story after the match. “I will continue with my daily work this time, too. It’s not a problem. You can continue to judge me as you wish.”