Foreign Policy Blogs

Iraq's Silver Lining on the Soccer Pitch

Every afternoon, I receive a google alert of the latest relevant google search results for Iraq. Most days, these returns look alarmingly similar. Generally, there will be news of “a string of bomb attacks” that have leveled yet another local police headquarters, another “15 killed in the third straight day of suicide attacks” headline, endless comments regarding Tony Blair’s current legal headaches, business discussion about the nation’s oil wealth, and brief mention of the most recent American soldier to lose his life far from home.

Pretty dismal stuff made all the more tragic because so little of it now resonates. Yesterday’s news that a bombing attack killed some 50 people at a police recruiting center in Tikrit offered an obvious reminder that the Iraq war is far from over, yet such headlines have persistently faded from top-fold, front-page. Oil exploration and refugee concerns have a limited audience, and breaking news of American troop deaths have been shoved to the back of collective conscience.

Given the sad state of affairs, I often feel that it’s my responsibility to locate some silver lining that threads through the Iraqi experience. In the midst of crisis, concern and carnage, Iraq’s national soccer team is making another run at the Asia Cup.

Iraq's Silver Lining on the Soccer Pitch

The 2007 champions finished second in their group – just behind rival Iran – and have moved on to what promises to be an exciting quarterfinal appearance against Australia. Iraq set up their post-Group D appearance with a 1-0 victory over North Korea, in a battle of failed state flying high on the football pitch. According to Iraq’s German coach, Wolfgang Sidka, his team earned the victory.”We deserved this victory. We especially played very well in the first half…In the last 20 minutes North Korea did everything to get back in the match so we lost the possession of the ball, but not too much.” Sidka’s will face his old friend and teammate, Holger Osieck, who coaches Australia in the next round. His squad will come into the match as the underdogs against and Australian team seeking revenge for the 3-1 defeat handed them by Iraq, en route to the Asia Cup glory four years ago.

It’s worth noting that North Korea was cheered on by some 250 fans – all men dressed in suits and ties. Very peculiar, but somehow perfectly fitting.



Reid Smith

Reid Smith has worked as a research associate specializing on U.S. policy in the Middle East and as a political speechwriter. He is currently a doctoral student and graduate associate with the University of Delaware's Department of Political Science and International Relations. He blogs and writes for The American Spectator.