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Thursday, August 19, 2004

Iraqi Soccer Team Gives Bush a Red Card

I've watched all three games that the Iraqi soccer team has played so far in the Olympics--victories over Portugal and Costa Rica, and a loss yesterday to Morroco. They have now advanced into the quarterfinals, having won their group with that 2-1 record. They play well, run hard, and have a good knack for goal scoring.

And George W. Bush has been trying to take credit. According to Sports Illustrated, Bush "is using the Iraqi Olympic team in his latest re-election campaign advertisements. "In those spots, the flags of Iraq and Afghanistan appear as a narrator says, 'At this Olympics there will be two more free nations -- and two fewer terrorist regimes.'"

Never mind that Iraq, and I think Afghanistan, have had teams all along. Never mind that the Iraqi team had to train in Jordan because the US invasion made it impossible to train there. Never mind that the soccer stadium in Fallujah is now a mass grave, and the one in Najaf is a battleground. George W. Bush made the Iraqi soccer team possible, right? They should be grateful, right?

Not hardly.
"Iraq as a team does not want Mr. Bush to use us for the presidential campaign," [Iraqi midfielder Salih] Sadir told through a translator, speaking calmly and directly. "He can find another way to advertise himself."

Ahmed Manajid, who played as a midfielder on Wednesday, had an even stronger response when asked about Bush's TV advertisement. "How will he meet his god having slaughtered so many men and women?" Manajid told me. "He has committed so many crimes."
Sadir, Wednesday's goal-scorer, used to be the star player for the professional soccer team in Najaf. In the city in which 20,000 fans used to fill the stadium and chant Sadir's name, U.S. and Iraqi forces have battled loyalists to rebel cleric Moktada al-Sadr for the past two weeks. Najaf lies in ruins.

"I want the violence and the war to go away from the city," says Sadir, 21. "We don't wish for the presence of Americans in our country. We want them to go away."

Manajid, 22, who nearly scored his own goal with a driven header on Wednesday, hails from the city of Fallujah. He says coalition forces killed Manajid's cousin, Omar Jabbar al-Aziz, who was fighting as an insurgent, and several of his friends. In fact, Manajid says, if he were not playing soccer he would "for sure" be fighting as part of the resistance.

"I want to defend my home. If a stranger invades America and the people resist, does that mean they are terrorists?" Manajid says. "Everyone [in Fallujah] has been labeled a terrorist. These are all lies. Fallujah people are some of the best people in Iraq."
Thanks to Michelle for the link.