Wednesday, July 25, 2007

National pride trumps terror

Iraq has shown that free citizens with national pride on their side will always outperform people enslaved by fear. Their national soccer side has reached the finals of the Asian Cup.

Tournament surprises Iraq will play either defending champions Japan or Saudi Arabia in Sunday's decider in Jakarta.

The epic match went to a shootout after both sides failed to score in over two hours' of sustained committed football.

It is Iraq's first-ever Asian Cup final after getting as far as the 1976 semi-final against Kuwait, which went to extra time, while South Korea were chasing their third title since 1960.

In emotional scenes at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium, Iraqi players rushed to their supporters to grab national flags as other players wept with joy when realisation hit that they had won.

This is fantastically good news for Iraq. Iraqis know that under Saddam, members of their soccer team were the playthings of Uday Hussein, subject to beatings and summary execution for poor play. To see their countrymen playing for their country (and not for a demented dictator claiming to be their country) and winning gives them a tremendous surge of pride and joy.

Which is something the enemies of a free Iraq cannot stand.

BAGHDAD (AP) -- Two suicide car bombings struck soccer fans in Baghdad as they were celebrating Iraq's victory in the Asian Cup semifinal on Wednesday, killing at least 27 people [Note: Reuters says the death toll from these attacks exceeds 50 - ed.] and wounding more than 100, officials said.

The victims were among the thousands of revelers who took to the streets of the capital after the country's national soccer team beat South Korea to reach the tournament's final against Saudi Arabia on Sunday in Jakarta, Indonesia.

The first attack took place about 6:30 p.m. when a bomber exploded in a crowd of people cheering near a well-known ice cream parlor in Baghdad's western neighborhood of Mansour, according to police and hospital officials. At least 11 people were killed and more than 60 wounded, the officials said.

Another suicide car bomber detonated his payload about 45 minutes later in the midst of dozens of vehicles filled with revelers near an Iraqi army checkpoint in the eastern district of Ghadeer, killing at least 16 people, including two soldiers, and wounding nearly 60, area officials said.

However, the national pride from the Iraqi team's Asian Cup performance is a far stronger weapon than the suicide bombs set against it. Suicide bombs are, sadly, not unprecedented events in Iraq -- but the Iraqi soccer team's performance is, and it pervades all of Iraq, not just one province or one ethnic group.

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