Several thousand rowdy soccer fans turned up at Al-Shaab stadium in Baghdad Saturday as premier league football got into full swing in the capital more than 18 months after mortars brought it to a halt.
There has been a decrease in the sectarian conflict and displaced families most of them Sunni are making a tentative return to their homes in Baghdad. However political reconciliation is a distant dream for now and the US has drastically scaled back expectations.
The reduction in violence did not come soon enough for some members of the Iraqi national team visiting Australia who have sought political asylum. The Iraqi team had played Australia's soccer team Saturday in a qualifying match for the 2008 Beijing Olympics; Australia won, 2-0. Three Iraqi players and a coach vanished Sunday. An official of Iraq's sports journalists association, Saif Muhsin, said the Iraqi Olympic Committee got word Monday that the men were asking for asylum in Australia.
Ali Abbas, a standout midfielder in Iraq's stunning success in the Asian Cup was reported as one of the players seeking asylum along with team mates Ali Mansur and Ali Khader as well as the Iraq team's assistant coach Sadi Toma.