Iraqis celebrate football win against Iran as symbolic victory
Iraqi fans cheer during the FIFA World Cup 2022 and the 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifying soccer match between Iraq and Iran in the Jordanian capital Amman on Thursday.
Jubilant Iraqis celebrated a football win against Iran Thursday as a desperately needed morale boost for protesters who have rallied against the Baghdad government and its backers in Tehran.
The highly-anticipated match, which ended in a 2-1 victory for Iraq, was an uplifting end to a day that began with four demonstrators killed as they were hit by tear gas canisters in Baghdad.
Many of the expatriate Iraqi fans who streamed into the football stadium in the Jordanian capital Amman were dressed in black to honour the dead protesters or donned the medical masks demonstrators wear to protect them against tear gas.
In Baghdad's Tahrir (Liberation) Square, the heart of the month-long grassroots movement that has claimed over 330 lives, activists watched the match on a giant screen after a day of clashes with riot police.
When Iran's national anthem played before the match, they booed and chanted "Iran out, Baghdad will remain free" to the martial pounding of drums.
And when the Iraqi team scored their first goal at the ten-minute mark, they cheered in Amman as the cracking of fireworks echoed throughout Baghdad.
Iran and Iraq fought a 1980-1988 war and were rivals under former dictator Saddam Hussein, but the predominantly Shiite states grew close after he was ousted in the 2003 US-led invasion.
More recently, however, Iraqi demonstrators have directed their ire at Iran for backing the government they want to bring down, accusing Tehran of economic and political meddling and overreach in Iraq.
Wearing the Iraqi team's football jersey, Ahmed, a 26-year-old fan in Baghdad, said the sporting contest sent "an important message".
It was a sentiment shared by Mustafa Abdullah, aged in his 40s and one of about 70,000 Iraqis living in Jordan, who came to the match carrying his national flag.
"Our most important objective is to send a clear message to all the Iraqi people-the Sunnis, the Shiites, the Kurds-that we reject the interference of Iran and its agents in our country," he said.
"Iran and its agents are the cause of the woes that swept over Iraq after the fall" of Saddam in 2003, he told AFP.