Tag Archives: Iraq

More Tragedy for Iraqi Soccer

The tragedy of it is rivaled by only the absurdity of it:

Two teams representing the Shiite villages of Sinjar and Enana, near Hilla, which is south of Baghdad, played a close-fought match on Saturday, with Sinjar winning, 2-1. During celebrations, an off-duty police officer started firing his service pistol into the air but lost control of it, the police said. A bullet struck the Sinjar goalie, an 18-year-old high school senior named Mohammed Amin, in the head, killing him instantly.

Heretofore, it had been an encouraging week for Iraqi soccer.

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Soccer’s Rise in Iraq

The revival of Iraq’s largest professional soccer league has been an incremental process. The league was inactive for two seasons following the U.S. invasion, and too many players to count–particularly on the Baghdad clubs–were killed or kidnapped. In late 2004, the league returned with a limited schedule, and now–finally–teams are playing more road games, and fans are attending the games in meaningful numbers:

“This is the first time since 2003 I’ve felt safe enough to come back to the stadium,” said Mohammed Salih, 28, with the smile of a man whose team is winning. “There’s so much news about bad politics and poor security. Football is the only thing that brings relief to my soul.”

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Iraq National Soccer Team No More … For Now

Now that Iraq can’t qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the national soccer team has been disbanded. As the AP notes, the dissolution occurs less than a year after Iraq’s stunning run to the Asian Cup championship. But there’s an upside: the team will be reassembled with a new coach and a mostly new roster. Considering the galvanizing power of the sport and the terminal miseries of the Iraqi people, it’s a good thing soccer isn’t going away for good.

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Iraqi World Cup Dreams Dashed

Over the last year or so, the Iraqi national football team has reached impossible heights and narrowly avoided FIFA decertification. The latter possibility–that Iraq would be banned from competing for a berth in the 2010 World Cup field–angered the al-Maliki government and saddened the Iraqi people. As Najah Nasser, a Baghdad engineer, told the New York Times, soccer is “the only relief for us.”

Once FIFA voted to lift the suspension, alive again was Iraq’s bid to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1986. Over the weekend, however, Iraq suffered a stunning 1-Nil loss to Qatar, which means they won’t be a part of the 2010 fray in South Africa.

That’s grim news. For almost any country other than the U.S., a critical loss by the national soccer team is a mortal blow. For battered, sundered Iraqis, though, it’s something more than that. In Iraq, distractions are precious; unifying distractions–such as the Asia Cup triumph last year–have the potential to save lives. It was then that warring Sunnis and Shiites, for a fugitive time, tabled their hatreds and shared a common glory. So it’s a shame that the “Lions of Mesopotamia” don’t have another one in them.

Here’s to better days on the pitch …

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The Grief of Mary Tillman

Let me begin this post by indulging in cliche: Pat Tillman, to me, is a genuine hero. As we’ve all heard so many times, he walked away from millions in the NFL to volunteer for perilous detail in Afghanistan, which, unlike the current morass in Iraq, was a just and necessary engagement. That’s a level of sacrifice, valor, and personal courage I’ll probably never be able to fathom. He was a hero even before he met his end in April of 2004.

On the subject of Tillman’s service to his country and untimely death, we have Dave Zirin’s engaging interview with Mary Tillman, Pat’s mother. That Tillman was the victim of fratricide and that the Army withheld this knowledge for some time are matters of record. That’s enough to push a grieving family over the edge. Most of us–thankfully–can’t wrap our heads around the idea of what it’s like to bury a child, and that’s why so much of what’s done in the name of grief must be dismissed and forgiven. I don’t like it that Cindy Sheehan cozied up to a despotic loon like Hugo Chavez, but putting myself in her position is beyond the extremities of my imagination. I simply don’t how I’d behave if I lost my son to war. That brings me to this exchange between Zirin and Tillman:

Tillman: … And when the information looks so suspicious and so contradictory–we were concerned that he could have been killed on purpose.

Zirin: Is that something you believe at this point?

Tillman: It’s possible, I suppose, to a tiny degree. But I think we’ve pretty much eliminated that simply because after looking at these documents for four years and being able to talk to more of the soldiers as they gradually get out of the military it’s pretty clear that these soldiers were grossly negligent.

What’s curious about this is that whether Tillman’s death was accidental friendly fire or a sinister incidence of “fragging” (i.e., the murder of a ranking officer) is still an open issue. In July of last year, the AP reported that unnamed Army doctors wanted Tillman’s death investigated as a homicide because, according to forensic evidence, he was shot from a distance of just 10 yards. The Pentagon ultimately ruled that Tillman’s death was accidental, but, let’s face it, the Pentagon isn’t exactly known for rigorous honesty during wartime.

The excerpted portion above, by my reading, suggests that Ms. Tillman is mostly satisfied on this front and that she’s not inclined to believe her son was murdered. Perhaps that’s her genuine conclusion or perhaps that’s what she needs to believe for the sake of her emotional health. Even if it’s the latter case, it would be indecent to judge her for it. Still, it’s odd that Ms. Tillman seems to be more certain in this regard than the public record is.

The unfortunate reality is that we’ll probably never know the truth about Tillman–if there are secrets, then each day that goes by buries them more deeply. My hope is that the Tillman family is comforted by the knowledge that Pat’s heroism had nothing to do with his death, whatever the circumstances and truths of that death might be. It was his life that was heroic.

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