Sun, Jul 15, 2007 - Page 23 News List

Iraqis take to the streets and celebrate

AP , BAGHDAD

Thousands of Iraqis poured into the street, dancing, chanting and firing shots into the air in celebration after their national soccer team defeated Australia, a country many here see as an occupation force.

Iraq stunned Australia with a 3-1 victory on Friday in their Asian Cup Group A match in Thailand, putting the pre-tournament favorites on the verge of a humiliating early exit from the competition.

Shortly after the referee blew the whistle ending the game, sporadic gunfire could be heard in central Baghdad. People who had been glued to their television sets dashed into the streets of the capital to celebrate -- a welcome reason to cheer for residents who live in daily fear of attacks and suffer from unemployment as high as 70 percent.

In Baghdad's central neighborhood of Karradah, hundreds of young men waved Iraqi flags and chanted slogans supporting their soccer team. The fans were on motorcycles, in cars and even on top of buses. Some took off their T-shirts and waved them. Drivers stopped their vehicles in the middle of the street and went out to dance.

"Despite all of what is happening, the most important thing for us is Iraq. Soccer unites Iraq. Long live Iraq," a man shouted from inside his car before driving away.

School teacher Salem Issam, 24, said he watched the game with his family. He said the victory is great because Iraqis need good news.

"Iraq has become known all over the world, and international television stations show images of explosions, killings, kidnappings and violence, but today we are happy, even if it is for one hour," Salem said.

"The game today was some kind of a challenge because we were playing with a country that has a military presence here and at the same time a country known to have a strong team," lawyer Mohammed al-Kharasani said. "Regrettably, the Australian team played looking down on us since they are an occupying country."

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