Monday, July 30, 2007

And the crowd went wild!

Will wonders never cease? There's actually some good news out of Iraq this morning; well, Jakarta really, but nonetheless . . . The Iraqi "Lions of the Two Rovers" beat their cross-border rivals Saudi Arabia 1-0 in the Asia Cup yesterday in Indonesia off the header of Younis Mahmoud in the 71st minute. The resulting celebration killed at least four people unlucky enough to be standing under the falling fusillade -- or "happy fire" -- which erupted as the clock ran out.

The story of the Iraqi team is one for the ages. The Saudis, naturally, fielded the best team money could buy -- sort of like the New York Yankees of soccer -- and they got crushed by a team of players, representing all the various ethnic and religious divisions of Iraq, who had just been cobbled together two months ago under the leadership of a Brazilian coach. It really doesn't get any better than that.

If only a football game could re-unite the fractious Iraqi people after so much death and destruction. The NYT quotes an Iraqi celebrant saying, "Our happiness depends on these guys who playing in Asia; I wish they would come and take over parliament, for they are the ones who really represent us."

Amen brother, but alas, it seems unlikely many of the players will even be able to make it back to Iraq. The man who made the winning header said after the game, "I don't want the Iraqi people to be angry with me [but] if I go back with the team, anybody could kill me or try to hurt me." Younis Mahmoud is a Sunni from Kirkuk, so I can see why he might be apprehensive about returning home (and those shorts he was wearing could get him killed in a heartbeat).

What a shame it is that the people of Iraq will undoubtedly be crashing back down to reality soon enough after such a positive national achievement, a rare event in the past five years. It's almost impossible to fathom the scale of the disaster W.'s perfect little war has inflicted on Iraq: Not only is Iraq # 2 on the list of failed nations of the world, a new UN report issued today says about 8 million Iraqis, a third of the population, is on the verge of a humanitarian disaster due to lack of food, clean water and medical care. And this is to say nothing of the 2 million displaced Iraqis inside the country and the 2 million, who were lucky enough to get out, yet are still barely surviving in stateless limbo in Jordan and Syria.

It's a real tragedy that the only thing the Iraqis have left of their once great nation is a football team that will never play together again. One thing I'm sure all Iraqis can agree on, if nothing else was expressed by their new national hero Younis Mahoud after the victory: "I want the Americans out of Iraq."


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