The Iraq soccer team: The only benchmark that has worked

The Iraq team might accomplish more to unite their country and bring it back from civil war than George W Bush’s moronic ‘surge’ and Nur Al Maliki’s sputtering government. Indeed the only undisputed benchmark of progress, if Dubya had included them in his report card to Congress, would be the success of the Iraq soccer team. It’s a telling tale that Peggy Noonan, a Reagan acolyte, and a longstanding Dubya die hard, has abandoned him. According to her he has jumped the shark. Lost his marbles. Drunk the Kool-Aid. As he continues to entertain delusions of grandeur about the success of the war, the public and now Congress have begun to desert him. The emperor wears no clothes.
However there maybe a very good reason that Dubya did not include the Iraqi soccer team as a benchmark because the last time he touted them as a success the Iraqi national team rose up as one in their disillusionment of him. The Iraqi team became a focal point of the Bush re-election campaign as their participation in the 2004 Olympics, post Saddam Hussein was touted as a success, a symbol of free Iraq. One small problem was that Bush now familiarly, as his wont, conveniently forgot to take into confidence the Iraqi players.
At a speech in Beaverton, Ore., last Friday, Bush attached himself to the Iraqi soccer team after its opening-game upset of Portugal. “The image of the Iraqi soccer team playing in this Olympics, it’s fantastic, isn’t it?” Bush said. “It wouldn’t have been free if the United States had not acted.”
In a truly astonishing interview with Grant Wahl, the soccer team took their gloves off as election advertisements blatantly used them as campaign talking points.
Salih Sadir, a Iraqi midfielder: “Iraq as a team does not want Mr. Bush to use us for the presidential campaign,” Sadir told SI.com through a translator, speaking calmly and directly. “He can find another way to advertise himself.”
If one looks at the Iraqi team, it is a rorschach of sectarian and regional divisions throughout the country. Kurds, Sunnis, and Shias united by the sport that Iraqis love the most.
Hawar Mulla Mohammed, is an Iraqi Kurd, born in Mosul, plays for UAE’s Al- Ain, and anchors the midfield. Nashat Akram, the hero in the Australia win, plays for Saudi Arabia’s Al-Shabab, and is a native of Al-Hillah, in central Iraq. He is one of Iraq’s most promising talents increasingly linked to Roy Keane’s Sunderland. Mohammad Yunus, playing for Al Gharafa, in Qatar, but born in oil rich Kirkuk, in Iraq Kurdistan is the country’s most prolific striker. Qusay Munir, born in Sadr City, Baghdad, and one of the architects of Iraq’s success in the 2004 Olympics, plays for Arbil FC, a northern club. Emad Mohammed, a star forward of the U19 team and subsequently, a key player in the 2004 Asian Cup was born in the holy city of Karbala, and presently plays for Sepahan, an Iranian soccer club.
Soccer as a uniting symbol for Iraqis, as a sport that rallies nationalism, is thus antithetical to the insurgents goal of unleashing sectarian forces. The inevitability of Iraqi soccer being targeted. This is a country that has seen many soccer officials and players kidnapped or murdered. No less than Ammo Baba, an Iraqi soccer icon, and the manager of the Iraqi team in its golden years of the 80s, was spared as he was assaulted and robbed at home by Iraqi insurgents.
Despite the violence, the players themselves are clear eyed about who is at fault. As much as the players detested the brutal Uday Hussein, his violence was entirely predictable.
When the Games are over, though, Coach Hamad says, they will have to return home to a place where they fear walking the streets. “The war is not secure,” says Hamad, 43. “Many people hate America now. The Americans have lost many people around the world–and that is what is happening in America also.”
Their resilience in a climate of overwhelming violence is a celebration of the human spirit. Their 3-1 dismantling of the Socceroos, admittedly aided and abetted by the most woeful display of defending seen since the fall of the Maginot line, was not something new or unexpected. The Iraqis have had their share of success, defying all odds, coming fourth in the 2004 Olympics in Athens, en route beating Portugal, Costa Rica, and Australia. The Iraqis also won the silver medal in the 2006 Asian Games, just beaten by Oman, 1-0. Their next opponent in the Asian Cup is Oman, setting up a rematch where the Iraqis will be looking for redemption.
Coach Adnan Hamad is gone and in his place is Jorvan Vieira, a Brazilian who accepted the position after three others turned it down because of death threats. The continued success of the team under his tenure will probably do more to further amity in Iraq than any other measure, because in the end it is their national team.

9 comments on “The Iraq soccer team: The only benchmark that has worked
  1. It’s pathetic how you try to link Iraq’s success in the Asian Cup to the domestic situation back home.
    Firstly, there’s nothing “moronic” about the surge. Early signs are encouraging. Why don’t you wait and see what General Pertreaus has to say to congress in Sept before you judge it a failure.
    Secondly, from reading blogs by soldiers on the ground, many Iraqis are grateful and want to the US to remain in Iraq for as long as it takes. See the polls.
    Thirdly, regarding the 2004 Olympics, nowhere did Bush mention the Iraqi soccer team. He mentioned the fact that Iraq (and Afghanistan) can compete as free nations. Salih Sadir actually offended and embarrassed many Iraqis including his own teammates with his stupid remarks. (See Omar’s blog “Iraq the Model”
    Finally, I’ve noticed that you have not one word of condemnation for the savages responsible for the killings in Iraq, but plenty to say about GWB. You are totally misguided. And I’m not a GWB fan.
    And it’s funny how you try to downplay Uday’s brutal torturing of Iraq’s athletes as “predictable”. Sad.

  2. Peter of Melbourne
    Thanks for clarifying that you are not a GWB fan. I had pegged you wrong. Maybe you are a John Howard fan.
    Those ‘savages’ responsible for all the killings would not have killed at all if we were in Iraq. Furthermore, there were no hijackers on 9/11 that were Iraqi.
    Most early signs show a worsening of the situation. Even Bush’s own report shows limited progress. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=11945338
    Iraq used to send its team to the Olympics and the World Cup (they qualified for the 1986 WC) long before Dubya decided to ‘free’ them. In fact, they were a civilization long before Australia and the USA came into existence.
    I have read “Iraq the model” and let me tell you that blog has Fox News beat in being pro-Bush. If you read that interview by Grant Wahl, you will see that Salih Sadir’s team mates were even harder on Bush than he was.
    Lets face it. General Petraeus will say the same thing about the war come September that we have been saying for a long time. This war was wrong and it has done more harm than good.

  3. Shourin,
    Grant Wahl’s report in SI on the Iraqi soccer team stinks. We have no idea what questions were asked to the players and he may have been trying to solicit a certain response rather just report. Nonetheless, we get only the opinions of 2 players out of a squad of 22. What about the opinions of the other 20 players? We don’t know, do we? And besides, if you were an Iraqi player giving an interview on this matter, what would you say? Would you praise GWB and risk repercussions for you and your family? Probably not.
    Now while Iraq did send teams to previous Olympics and the ’86 World Cup, you ignore the fact that Iraq’s athletes were routinely tortured by one of Saddam’s thug sons if they did not perform.
    Furthermore, while civilizations existed in Iraq before the US, there wasn’t much of a civilization during the reign of the homicidal dictator Saddam, who took the lives of so many Iraqis and even used chemical weapons on his own people. And I find amusing how you put scare quotes around the word savages. I ask you again. Do you support these people who car bomb the Iraqis daily? Will you condemn them or will you instead condemn GWB?
    As for the NPR report, it doesn’t say much about the military progress. All it does is lament the lack of political progress in Iraq regarding domestic issues. I wouldn’t expect much else from the left-wing NPR. Most reports I read from people on the ground suggest that Al-Qaeda and it’s allies are getting body slammed. Now I don’t know about you, but to me, that’s good news.
    The US and it’s allies have now given the Iraqis a chance at freedom and prosperity, something they’ve never had before. Whether they seize that chance is ultimately up to them. It is a noble undertaking which some people both inside and outside Iraq (including much of the Western media)are desperately hoping will fail. Where do you stand?
    BTW, sorry for the long post.

  4. Shourin, great post. Peter of Melbourne, sorry but your post saying that bush and his cretins gave Iraq a a real chance of freedom laughable. You’re living in a fantasy world if that’s what you this filthy, illegal, immoral utterly evil war is about.

  5. I’ve asked you 3 times now if you condemn the daily atrocities committed by terrorists in Iraq against the Iraqi people – and you’ve ducked the question every time. Thanks for clarifying which side you’re on.

  6. P of M
    You talk about the Iraqis as if they were a homogenous people. This war has exposed fault lines that have existed for many years amongst different sects. I would not be quick to condemn them as terrorists.
    Let me turn the question around- do you think this bloodbath that you are seeing right now would have taken place if the US had not decided to invade Iraq?
    And how about the atrocious behaviour of the Australians to their own indigenous people? For the stolen generation, sequestered in internment camps away from their families, so that they could collectively forget their history and culture, the Australians behaved like terrorists too.
    I don’t think Saddam Hussein is in his wildest dreams would have thought that he could have killed that many Shias and Americans like this war has in such a short time. That is the real tragedy.
    So they are not all terrorists if that is the answer you are looking for. Many are fighting the occupation, i.e., they are nationalists. But somehow I know that this answer will not satisfy you. Nothing will.

  7. hi, sood el rafeeden thank you for all your help for making our team win all the players put a smile on every iraqis face when you win thank you god pless you every day every game.

  8. hi, sood el rafeeden thank you for all your help for making our team win all the players put a smile on every iraqis face when you win thank you god pless you every day every game.

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