Iraqis united in football win


Summary

Iraqis have danced in the streets after their team's victory at the Asian Cup football championship, but four people died from celebratory gunfire.

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Mosques broadcast calls for the shooting to stop, while security forces enforced a vehicle ban in the capital in an effort to prevent a repeat of car bombings that killed dozens celebrating Iraq's progress to the finals in Asia's top soccer tournament.

VIDEO: Iraqi joy

VIDEO: Sydney celebrations

The World Game: Iraq wins Asian Cup

"Those heroes have shown the real Iraq. They have done something useful for the people as opposed to the politicians and lawmakers who are stealing or killing each other," said Sabah Shaiyal, a 43-year-old policeman in Baghdad's main Shi'ite district of Sadr City.

"The players have made us proud, not the greedy politicians. Once again our national team has shown that there is only one, united Iraq."

The Iraqi team, known as the "Lions of the Two Rivers", beat three-time champions Saudi Arabia 1-0 in its first appearance in the Asian Cup final.

The Iraqi squad was drawn together in ad-hoc circumstances from all parts of the Gulf, and with its players straddling the bitter and violent ethnic divides.

Iraq dominated the final against a heavily favoured Saudi Arabia, a three-time Asian Cup champion.

At the final whistle, captain and goal scorer Younis Mahmoud sprinted across the pitch with his elated team-mates in pursuit before they collapsed into a pile, overwhelmed with their achievement.

The jubilation over the victorious run of the team has given Iraqis a welcome respite from the daily violence plaguing their nation, with men of all ages cheering and dancing in the streets after the quarter-finals and the semi-finals.

But extremists seemed just as determined to destroy national pride and unity. Two car bombs tore through crowds of revellers in two Baghdad neighbourhoods, killing 50 people, after Wednesday's semi-final against South Korea.

An Iraqi military official said police had foiled a suicide car bomber by opening fire as the attacker took aim at a crowd in south-western Baghdad. The driver was killed but no other casualties were reported, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorised to release the information.

Dancing in the street

Soccer fans danced and waved Iraqi flags in the streets in Baghdad, and women handed out sweets.

People sprayed confetti from cans over the heads of jubilant crowds in the southern city of Basra.

Traffic jams clogged the streets in the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah, 260 km north-east of Baghdad. Many revellers waved both Kurdish and the Iraqi national flags in a show of unity.

Iraqi politicians were quick to try to take advantage of the win.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's office issued a statement congratulating the team and said each member would receive $US10,000 ($A11,500) for their achievements.

The Shi'ite leader's office said earlier that it had planned to send a Cabinet delegation to the game, but that it was not possible to organise a charter flight due to technical issues related to "the flight's path and overflight permissions by countries through which the plane would have to cross en route to Jakarta". The statement did not single out any countries or give more details.

Influential Shi'ite politician Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, the head of the Supreme Islamic Council in Iraq who recently returned from Iran after cancer treatment, also welcomed the victory in a speech aired on the Forat TV station run by his party.

Security tightened

The vehicle ban – which began at 4pm local time, about half an hour before the game started, and was to last through to 6am on Monday – would include all vehicles as well bicycles, motorcycles and carts in a bid to keep "terrorists, Sunni extremists and criminals from targeting the joy of the people over the achievements of the Iraqi national team," Iraqi military spokesman Qassim al-Moussawi said in an announcement broadcast on Iraqi state television.

The US military said it would position troops as necessary to maintain security nationwide.

The celebratory gunfire ignored strict orders from government authorities who had warned that people firing weapons into the air illegally would be arrested after seven people were killed in such shooting in the aftermath of previous victories.

At least four people were killed and 17 wounded, some seriously, by the shooting that broke out after Sunday's game, according to initial reports by police and hospital officials.

Police in the predominantly Shi'ite southern city of Nasiriyah reported at least nine people, including three children, wounded by the gunfire. All the officials declined to be identified because they were not supposed to speak to the media.


Iraqis have danced in the streets after their team's victory at the Asian Cup football championship, but four people died from celebratory gunfire.

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Mosques broadcast calls for the shooting to stop, while security forces enforced a vehicle ban in the capital in an effort to prevent a repeat of car bombings that killed dozens celebrating Iraq's progress to the finals in Asia's top soccer tournament.

VIDEO: Iraqi joy

VIDEO: Sydney celebrations

The World Game: Iraq wins Asian Cup

"Those heroes have shown the real Iraq. They have done something useful for the people as opposed to the politicians and lawmakers who are stealing or killing each other," said Sabah Shaiyal, a 43-year-old policeman in Baghdad's main Shi'ite district of Sadr City.

"The players have made us proud, not the greedy politicians. Once again our national team has shown that there is only one, united Iraq."

The Iraqi team, known as the "Lions of the Two Rivers", beat three-time champions Saudi Arabia 1-0 in its first appearance in the Asian Cup final.

The Iraqi squad was drawn together in ad-hoc circumstances from all parts of the Gulf, and with its players straddling the bitter and violent ethnic divides.

Iraq dominated the final against a heavily favoured Saudi Arabia, a three-time Asian Cup champion.

At the final whistle, captain and goal scorer Younis Mahmoud sprinted across the pitch with his elated team-mates in pursuit before they collapsed into a pile, overwhelmed with their achievement.

The jubilation over the victorious run of the team has given Iraqis a welcome respite from the daily violence plaguing their nation, with men of all ages cheering and dancing in the streets after the quarter-finals and the semi-finals.

But extremists seemed just as determined to destroy national pride and unity. Two car bombs tore through crowds of revellers in two Baghdad neighbourhoods, killing 50 people, after Wednesday's semi-final against South Korea.

An Iraqi military official said police had foiled a suicide car bomber by opening fire as the attacker took aim at a crowd in south-western Baghdad. The driver was killed but no other casualties were reported, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorised to release the information.

Dancing in the street

Soccer fans danced and waved Iraqi flags in the streets in Baghdad, and women handed out sweets.

People sprayed confetti from cans over the heads of jubilant crowds in the southern city of Basra.

Traffic jams clogged the streets in the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah, 260 km north-east of Baghdad. Many revellers waved both Kurdish and the Iraqi national flags in a show of unity.

Iraqi politicians were quick to try to take advantage of the win.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's office issued a statement congratulating the team and said each member would receive $US10,000 ($A11,500) for their achievements.

The Shi'ite leader's office said earlier that it had planned to send a Cabinet delegation to the game, but that it was not possible to organise a charter flight due to technical issues related to "the flight's path and overflight permissions by countries through which the plane would have to cross en route to Jakarta". The statement did not single out any countries or give more details.

Influential Shi'ite politician Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, the head of the Supreme Islamic Council in Iraq who recently returned from Iran after cancer treatment, also welcomed the victory in a speech aired on the Forat TV station run by his party.

Security tightened

The vehicle ban – which began at 4pm local time, about half an hour before the game started, and was to last through to 6am on Monday – would include all vehicles as well bicycles, motorcycles and carts in a bid to keep "terrorists, Sunni extremists and criminals from targeting the joy of the people over the achievements of the Iraqi national team," Iraqi military spokesman Qassim al-Moussawi said in an announcement broadcast on Iraqi state television.

The US military said it would position troops as necessary to maintain security nationwide.

The celebratory gunfire ignored strict orders from government authorities who had warned that people firing weapons into the air illegally would be arrested after seven people were killed in such shooting in the aftermath of previous victories.

At least four people were killed and 17 wounded, some seriously, by the shooting that broke out after Sunday's game, according to initial reports by police and hospital officials.

Police in the predominantly Shi'ite southern city of Nasiriyah reported at least nine people, including three children, wounded by the gunfire. All the officials declined to be identified because they were not supposed to speak to the media.