Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Hope Is Gone

Sports is often a phenomena that unifies fractured group. A country, a city, even a neighborhood can cast aside their differences and unite together as a community through sport. Today, should be such a time in Iraq. Football(soccer) is a game filled with passion, national identity and pride. It's the one sport truly played around the globe.

In the midst of the tragic events in Iraq, something wonderful has occured. The Asian Cup, which is the championship of the Asian nations and the Middle East, this year including Australia as well, has had a remarkable story. Iraq is often a middling contender even in their soccer backwater of the world but this year has been different.

Iraq was placed in a preliminary group with Australia. The "Socceroos" have several players in the highest division playing professionally in England. Iraq beat them 3-1.

Iraq then faced an easier task in the quarter-finals. They easily walked past Vietnam 2-0. Iraq had progressed as far as they had made it in this tournament. A feeling of national pride has swept the nation. The next task would be much more difficult.

South Korea was the host of the World Cup in 2002, and had made it to the semi finals. They were groomed under experienced European coaching, and have made a real impact in the sport. The game today was taught, tight, and drenched with tension. There were no goals scored. The game was resolved through penalty kicks. Iraq slipped by 4-3. Now they have reached the finals, an accomplishment beyond their wildest dreams.

This is an accomplishment that brings hope to people who are clinging on to anything to believe in as their lives have been shattered. Iraqis poured into the streets to celebrate. If only just sport, their nation could be proud of at least one thing.

Car bombers targeted throngs of Iraqis on Wednesday as they spilled into Baghdad streets to cheer a national soccer victory, killing at least 50 people and leaving scores more wounded.

Attacking revelers in the Mansour district of western Baghdad, a suicide car bomber killed at least 30 people and wounded 75, an Iraqi Interior Ministry official said.

Later, in the southeastern neighborhood of Ghadir, a second car bomb killed at least 20 and wounded at least 60, the official said. The attack is near an Iraqi army checkpoint.

Thousands of fans had filled the streets of the capital after Iraqi athletes competing in Malaysia defeated South Korea, catapulting the nation to the Asian Cup finals for the first time.

No troop surge, Plan B, or pretty words spoken by officials in Washington or Baghdad can erase the hatred that fuels young men who see citizens celebrating national pride as a good target for terror.

Hope is gone.