Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Iraq united

'Soccer-mad Iraqis, Shi'ites, Sunni Arabs and ethnic Kurds alike, are enjoying rare moments of joy as their team charges through to the final of the Asian Games. Moments after the final whistle saw Iraq knock out favourites South Korea on Tuesday to enter the final, jubilant crowds across Iraq took to the streets dancing to patriotic songs, waving their national flag, firing celebratory shots into the air and honking horns. State TV played music for hours. Iraqis struggling in their daily lives to survive bombs and sectarian death squads have been glued to television sets watching their team defying the difficulties crippling a country many fear is slipping into civil war or partition. "I'm extremely happy at this win. These victories give us a deep sense of pride and unity," said Ayad al-Saadi, a die-hard fan in Baghdad who followed the match on the edge of his seat. "I hope we will win the tournament because we deserve as many happy moments as we can get. The team is a thorn in the eye of the terrorists who want to ruin our country." The team's performance has captured the hearts of Iraqis, much as the soccer team of the 2004 Olympic Games did, which upset the odds to finish in fourth. Sunni and Shi'ite media unite in praise of a team straddling, in apparent harmony, the sectarian divides. "Iraq's heroes close to gold after great victory over Korea," read a headline in Al Sabah newspaper, controlled by the Shi'ite-led goverment. The Sunni-owned Al Mashriq daily proclaimed: "Our heroes in competition for gold medal." A U.S. military spokesman, by background possibly not a soccer fanatic himself, found time in a weekly news briefing usually focused on military operations to praise the team as "a true inspiration to all of us". "It shows what can be done when people put their differences aside."'

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