Dhe Iraqi Prime Minister Muhammad Shia al-Sudani could not travel to Basra as the proud host of the Golf Cup final. He had to meet the organizers as a crisis manager. The international football tournament in the southern Iraqi city was celebrated as historic and as the starting point for a better future. Then the Iraqi national team had reached the final against Oman.
On Thursday morning, however, the golf trophy came to a tragic end: there was a crowd in front of the stadium in which at least one fan was killed. A twenty-something from Baghdad, as his brother confirmed in the Arab press. The official Iraqi news agency reported that several people were critically injured.
Thousands had made their way to the stadium at an early hour. Videos circulating online showed people screaming for help as the crowd pushed them helplessly along. By the time the stadium gates opened to ticket holders to take the pressure off, it was too late.
Iran protests the name of the tournament
The governor of Basra, Asaad al-Eidani, had previously warned of just such an incident. He had strongly discouraged fans, especially those without a ticket, from gathering in front of the stadium. “It could lead to stampede and the perfect image that our country presented as a host could be tarnished,” he said. The Ministry of the Interior had also asked the football-loving population to celebrate in a “civilized” way and to refrain from celebrating with shots in the air.
For the Iraq Hosting the tournament was a big deal, shortly after the first World Cup to be held in an Arab country, which had boosted the profile of the Qatari hosts in the region and sparked a new pan-Arabism in football. Iraq had long been avoided as a venue – because the country was ruled by the tyrant Saddam Hussein and after his overthrow in the wake of the 2003 American invasion it descended into chaos. The Golf Cup was last held in Iraq in 1979.
Sudani had said the tournament showed “brotherhood” among Arab Gulf countries. The fact that such tones aroused displeasure in the abusive neighbor Iran already shows that the Golf Cup has unfolded symbolic power beyond football. Sudani had used the official tournament title “Arabian Gulf Cup”, which even led to the Iraqi ambassador in Tehran being summoned.
The Iranian regime has had an allergic reaction to the word “Arabian Gulf”, which is often used by its Arab regional adversaries. Iran, which rules a network of influential politicians and heavily armed proxies in Iraq, values the Persian Gulf designation.
After the accident, the Iraqi Football Association announced that the final match would go ahead as planned. And appealed to the fans not to come to the stadium because the ranks were already full.