Sun, Aug 05, 2007 - Page 24 News List

Iraq's soccer team return to Baghdad

AFP, BAGHDAD

PHOTO: REUTERS

Iraq's soccer team returned home on Friday and dedicated their Asian Cup victory to a stricken mother whose 12-year-old son was killed in a bomb attack while celebrating their wins.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki presented the gleaming silver trophy to Umm Haidar, heavily veiled from head to toe in black, at celebrations hosted by the embattled leader in Baghdad's fortified government compound.

"Our Lions of The Two Rivers have taught the world an important lesson. Through determination and tenacity they snatched victory. They decided to win and they did," said Maliki, cracking a rare smile at the party.

"This courageous woman's attitude is what we expect to see from Iraqis. She showed true love for her country and her people. She was very courageous and we cannot do enough to thank her," he said, in a more sombre moment.

Umm Haidar's son was one among more than 50 people slaughtered in bomb attacks in Baghdad after Iraq's semi-final victory over South Korea.

Having clinched the 1-0 final win over Saudi Arabia last Sunday, skipper Yunis Mahmoud -- who along with a third of the team did not return to Baghdad -- said they resolved to win after she dedicated her dead son in sacrifice.

Maliki made her a gift of land and President Jalal Talabani would give her money to build, said the prime minister, who had a special prize for the team.

"These men are our ambassadors in the world and they will be granted diplomatic passports," said Maliki, before players, Cabinet ministers and turbaned sheikhs mingled over food and music.

The team jetted into Baghdad in the afternoon, welcomed home with kisses and flowered garlands after stepping off a government-chartered plane and greeted by dignitaries under tight security that kept ordinary Iraqis at bay.

"We come to Baghdad with great joy. It was a huge victory. We would like to present this cup as a gift to the Iraqi people and to the woman who lost her son in the terrorist attack," said substitute Ali Abbas, bursting into tears.

Led by grinning goalkeeper Noor Sabri carrying the silver cup, the team lined up in their matching team tracksuits to be kissed by Maliki, who placed limp garlands of white carnations around their necks.

Maliki later hosted a reception at his office in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone attended by Cabinet ministers and President Talabani.

Najeh Hamud, the deputy chairman of Iraq's Football Federation, said while still in Amman that seven members of the team would skip the homecoming.

The captain, Mahmoud, was going to Damascus to see his family, among the four million Iraqis to have fled the violence since the 2003 US-led invasion, Hamud said.

The other six players had commitments with foreign soccer clubs.

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