Living in Washington, D.C., in the 1980s and the early '90s, I had the thrill of watching the hometown team Redskins win three Super Bowl championships and unfortunately miss out on a fourth.
One of my most vivid memories of that era was getting on the Pennsylvania Avenue after each exciting victory by the 'Skins and becoming part of a joyous celebrating community. At the time my flat was in an area of Capitol Hill which had yet to become thoroughly "gentrified" so the bus was usually a mixture of the nation's capital population, yet there were no racial barriers on that bus.
Witnessing this display of fellowship I couldn't help feeling a certain degree of dissatisfaction for here was a city still marked by discrimination and class and yet being brought together by a sports team. Why does it have to been a sports team, I would ask myself, to "unite" a community in a common bond ?
Reading the reports recently concerning that Iraqi soccer team had won their first Asian Cup by scoring an upset overtime 1-0 victory over the Saudi Arabia team, I felt that same sense of frustration come over me, particularly concerning its joyous aftermath,
As the Los Angeles Times' Molly Hennessy-Fiske reported concerning the celebration in the war ravaged country: "Fans took to the streets to celebrate across Iraq -- in Kurdish areas to the north, Shi'ite holy cities to the south and several neighborhoods in the capital.
"Revelers took to the streets on foot, painting their faces with the tri-color Iraqi flag, throwing candy or shooting fireworks in triumph. Iraqi soldiers waved from passing vehicles. Honking cars clogged the main route into Baghdad's fortified Green Zone, home to the US Embassy and US military posts.
"Sporadic gunfire, much of it deemed to be celebratory, still could be heard hours after the game ended."
"It's a triumph and unity for Iraqis, a glorious day. Why not celebrate?" said Khadim Lafta Alwan, 37, a government worker in the southern city of Basra.
Various leaders from divergent sects, including Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shi'ite Muslim, Vice President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, plus members of the largest Sunni Arab bloc congratulated the team on their win as did Gen. David Petraeus, the top US military commander in Iraq.
"This is a gift to the united Iraqi people, to the different spectrums of the Iraqi people," said mid-fielder Nashaat Akram as he stood drenched in sweat on the field in Jakarta, Indonesia.
As Hennessy-Fiske reports, "in Baghdad, the victory by the team fans call 'The Lions of the Two Rivers,' after the Tigris and Euphrates, reminded Shi'ite Muslim laborer Muhammed Hussein of Iraq's potential."
"'These players helped us keep our faces up,' Hussein, 43, said. 'They showed us what the real Iraq is and how we can work hard to be something.'"
Even political blocs put their squabbles on hold following the teams victory, with the largest Sunni party postponing a major statement in light of the game.
As tennis coach Mustafa Faraj, 53, observed, "It seems that sports have become more important than politics."
Indeed, as Hennessy-Fiske reports, "at a time when sectarian tensions between Shi'ites and Sunnis have worsened in the Iraqi government and on the streets, the soccer team has been credited with helping unite Iraqis. Its leaders include Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims who work well together and often talk about overcoming sectarianism.
"In Kirkuk, a northern oil city known for its various ethnicities, Sirwan Rasheed, 55, a Kurd, said he erected flags in the team's honor with friends of various sects and ethnicities -- Sunni and Shi'ite Arabs, Turkomans and Christians. 'This team has united the sons of Iraq from the south to the north,' he said."
Would that the Iraqis tennis coach was correct and that rivalries between nations and divisions could be settled on the athletic fields and courts of the world rather than in life and death battles in the cities and villages of one's own country.
Yet, at this writing some 3,660 Americans are dead with another 26,943 wounded, many seriously, due to being caught in the midst of a civil war, induced primarily by a country seeking to assert itself as an imperial power in pursuit of a natural resource which will allow itself to live in the privileged life style to which it has become accustomed.
But American lives are not the only casualties in Iraq, as a recent Oxfam International report has concluded for poverty, hunger and public health continue to worsen in the country which says that more aid is needed from abroad. It calls on the Iraqi government to decentralize the distribution of food and medical supplies.
The report states that roughly four million Iraqis, many of them children, are in dire need of food aid; that 70% of the country lacks access to adequate water supplies, up from 50% in 2003; and that 90% of the country's hospitals lack basic medical and surgical supplies.
One survey cited in the report, completed in May by the Iraqi Ministry of Planning, found that 43% of Iraqis live in "absolute poverty," earning less than $1 a day.
Unemployment and hunger are particularly acute among the estimated two million people displaced internally from their homes by violence, many of whom are jobless, homeless and largely left on their own.
"The government of Iraq, international donors and the United Nations system have been focused on reconstruction, development and building political institutions, and have overlooked the harsh daily struggle for survival now faced by many," the report says.
At the outset of the Iraqi conflict, George W. Bush's stated intention of invading the Middle Eastern country was to bring "democracy" to that nation. That idea has long since vanished to be replaced by the US battling to not suffer a humiliating defeat.
A war-mongering, ego-obsessed Bush and his sycophants in the White House are now paying and will continue to pay a costly price in human lives and national honor by giving due attention to the words of comedian-activist Dick Gregory when he observed many years ago:
"If democracy is so good why do we have to go to other countries and try to jam it down their throats with a gun. Stay here and make democracy work. If it's good you don't have to force it on others -- they'll steal it!"
A.V. Krebs publishes the online newsletter, The Agribusiness Examiner, email email@example.com. He is author of The Corporate Reapers: The Book of Agribusiness.
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