As Iraq prepares for long-awaited regional cup, Gulf fans reunite with Iraqi peers
ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Hundreds of fans from various Gulf countries have arrived in Iraq’s southern province of Basra, where the first regional football tournament is planned to be held in January. It has been 40 years since Iraq has hosted an international tournament.
Footages of Iraqi fans warmly welcoming their Gulf counterparts have dominated the country’s social media networks, marking a reunion between the nations whose past political conflicts and sports embargo have caused long-standing isolation.
“Our homes are open,” an Iraqi soldier is seen speaking with a Gulf fan, as he invited him for lunch at the back of his military vehicle, according to footage shared by a Twitter account named Gulf News.
Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammad Shia’ Al-Sudani on Sunday visited Basra, where he reviewed the preparations for the matches that will be held from January 6 to 19, 2023.
He later met with the ambassadors of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Yemen to stress the importance of holding the championship.
The football matches enable Iraqis to meet their “brothers”, Al-Sudani told the Gulf diplomats, according to his media office.
Security concerns and the sports embargo on Iraq’s stadiums to host international games have deprived the country’s fans to witness Gulf Cups since 1979, when Iraq emerged victorious at the regional competition.
One of the giant stadiums set to host matches among Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain, has the capacity to accommodate 65,000 fans. Another venue can host up to 30,000 spectators.
Ticket sales for the 25th Gulf Cup began on Saturday, Adnan Darjal, the head of the Iraq Football Association announced. Ticket prices range from $6 to $30.
“I hope the Gulf Cup will be a good opening between Iraq, the Gulf, and the Arab world,” a Basrawi resident said in a short clip inside one of the newly built stadiums.
“Basra is a crown on our head,” one Saudi fan said in footage recorded by his Iraqi companion while holding two green-colored passports and praising the hospitality of the province.
Those who wish to visit Iraq to participate in the games do not have to pay any visa fees, the Iraqi authorities announced early this month.
Iraq’s relations with its Gulf neighbors have been rocky since the 1990s, as the country’s former dictator, Saddam Hussein, invaded the oil-rich Kuwait following the eight-year-long Iraq-Iran war.
In fear of being the next target of Hussein’s invasion, Saudi Arabia joined a US-led coalition to oust Iraqi forces in 1991.
However, Hussein’s 24-year-long regime was not toppled until 2003, and relations between Baghdad and the Gulf countries took a while to normalize.
On several occasions, some top Iraqi officials accused their Gulf neighbors of sponsoring terrorist groups that wrecked the entire country with suicide bombings and explosions for years.
In an attempt to normalize relations and help Baghdad rebuild following its three-year fight against ISIS, Kuwait hosted a donation conference, in which $30 billion was raised for Iraq’s reconstruction. A significant amount of that sum was pledged by the Gulf countries.