Iraqi Protesters Cheer Victory Over Iran, at Least on the Soccer Field

Iraqi Protesters Cheer Victory Over Iran, at Least on the Soccer Field


BAGHDAD — The protesters massed and shouted against Iran again on Thursday in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square and elsewhere, much as they have done over the past six weeks. But this time they were shouting with euphoria.

Their national soccer team outscored Iran 2-1 in a World Cup qualifying match.

The police, who in other circumstances might be looking tense, joined in the celebrations, as did Iraq’s senior leaders. Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mehdi even ordered giant screens erected in main squares around the country so Iraqis could watch the game, televised live from neighboring Jordan.

“All Iraqis are waiting for you to produce amazing results and support your efforts to win and bring joy to the hearts of all Iraqis,” Mr. Mehdi told the head of Iraq’s soccer association before the game.

Regardless of how Iraqi politicians view Iran, when it comes to soccer, they are 100 percent pro-Iraq.

Cheers, fireworks and drumming thundered throughout Baghdad at the final score, giving protesters a cathartic moment of triumph over Iran, which many see as having manipulated Iraq’s political system and bested Iraq economically. It was a moment of union for a country that again seems at risk of fracturing.

After Iraq scored the second time, Jassim Al Tamimi, a Baghdad bookstore owner, was almost shouting with excitement.

“This is a gift from God telling us that you will get your rights and we will not remain the same, we will not remain slaves for other states,” he said.

The demonstrations that have shaken Iraq for nearly two months paused at dusk as the police, protesters and politicians took off two hours to watch the game.

It has been a tense period between the two countries. The heart of the protesters’ demands is the ouster of the Iraqi government leadership, which they view as having been installed by Iran. They also are calling for an end to political parties, which they see as overly influenced by neighboring countries, and for early elections to replace the Parliament, which they view as corrupt.

“Out, Out Iran! Baghdad Free, Free!, “ is a common chant.

Iraqi soccer fans who went to watch the game in Iran were recorded on video cursing Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Quds Force, who has been in Iraq recently discussing the Iraqi government’s response to the protests. General Soleimani is viewed as instrumental in putting in place the current Iraqi government.

Large demonstrations were expected to resume on Friday after the weekly prayer. But the elation on Thursday night was seen as a welcome respite from the violence and loss that have accompanied the protests. At least 320 people have been killed by the security forces, the vast majority of them protesters, and 15,000 wounded, according to the United Nations.

“The happiness is indescribable, as if we we’d won the World Cup.” said As’ad Farij, 32, a computer teacher. He predicted that the victory would give the anti-Iran demonstrations an adrenaline shot that would make the protests “much stronger.”

Falih Hassan reported from Baghdad, and Alissa J. Rubin from Paris.



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