Iraqis celebrate Asian Cup triumph, hopes rise for unity

July 30, 2007 - 0:0

BAGHDAD (Agencies) - Iraq erupted in joy and celebratory gunfire on Sunday when the country's national football squad won the Asian Cup and united its bitterly divided communities in a rare moment of celebration.

It is hoped that this national celebration to serve as a catalyst to end the spiraling violence in the country. This victory gained as the result of joint efforts of a team composed of Sunnis, Shias and Kurds. The foreign terrorists and extremist groups should see these joyful scenes and let the Iraqi nation live in peace. All peace-loving people across the world heartened as they watched the Iraqis were demonstrating signs of unity and joy. Thousands of Iraqis, including members of the security forces, defied a strict government ceasefire order to welcome the team's 1-0 victory over local rivals Saudi Arabia with an intense barrage of gunfire, AFP reported. Soldiers, police and civilian gunmen loosed off long volleys of automatic fire skywards and into the waters of the Tigris within seconds of the final whistle in Jakarta, beamed live to cafes and homes across the country. The Iraqi victory against the three-time Asian Cup champions was a precious moment of shared national joy in a country beset by civil strife, but the celebrations could be a target for extremists seeking to foment unrest. ""Now it is our right to enjoy this victory that our heroic team has brought to us. They have brought us joy that we never experienced in the past, when we suffered greatly,"" said Haidar Mustafa, a Baghdad student. Around him in a downtown coffee shop, dozens of fans leapt and sang with joy after seeing skipper Younis Mahmoud's powerful header seal a first Asian Cup victory for his mixed team of Sunni Arabs, Shiite Arabs and Kurds. From the southern Shiite port city of Basra, to executed Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein's northern hometown of Tikrit and even to Arbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region, flag-waving crowds celebrated. ""This occasion will banish all of our grief,"" said Haidar Ahmed, 22. Earlier, Baghdad security authorities had imposed an overnight vehicle curfew in order to prevent insurgent car bomb attacks and ordered police to arrest anyone who took part in the traditional celebratory gunfire. In the hours leading up to the match there were reports that two foreign Arab fighters had been apprehended while trying to move car bombs into Zayuna, a Baghdad district that has recently been a target for Sunni extremists. Zayuna was struck by one of two car bombs that went off following last week's semi-final victory against South Korea, shattering the celebrations and killing at least 50 people. ""The security leadership of Baghdad operations has decided to enact a curfew for vehicles, motorbikes and carts,"" Brigadier General Qassim Atta, spokesman for security operations in Baghdad, said before the match. A senior Iraqi interior ministry official strongly advised Iraqis to hold their celebratory fire and to stay in their own areas of the city. ""People should not use celebratory gunfire, and any person caught shooting will be arrested and tried according to the Iraqi civil law,"" Brigadier General Abdelkarim Khalaf told reporters before the match. Nevertheless, troops and cops were among the first to start pumping out rounds from their AK-47 assault rifles and Glock pistols at checkpoints and barracks in the centre of the war-torn capital. Armed citizens and private security guards shot from the roofs of buildings in the downtown Karkh and Rusafa districts, where river bridges were eerily empty as Iraqis obeyed the curfew and watched the match at home or in cafes. Large crowds did gather in some parts of the city waving flags, dancing in the streets and -- in Shiite neighborhoods -- bearing aloft large banners with pictures of revered saints on them. Iraqis traditionally celebrate sporting victories by firing guns into the air, a practice grown more lethal in recent years as arms have proliferated across the war-torn country