Soccer team welcomed by Saddam anthem
Associated Press Writer
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates ” The food was great but the music stank.
A celebration thrown by the ruler of Dubai for the Iraqi soccer team after its Asian Cup win was marred when Iraq’s Saddam Hussein-era national anthem was played, angering many players and prompting some to walk away.
Confetti rained down as the players arrived late Tuesday at the Dubai airport where thousands of cheering fans gathered to welcome the team and celebrate its victory.
But some players and members of the Iraqi delegation walked out in protest when the organizers put on Saddam’s anthem instead of the country’s new one, according to Bassam al-Husseini, a representative of Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who flew with the team.
Emirates officials apologized for what was apparently a mistake. Najeh Hamoud, from the Iraqi soccer federation, told U.S.-funded Radio Sawa, which broadcasts in Arabic, a technician responsible for the music was unaware there was a new anthem.
After Saddam’s overthrow, new Iraqi authorities selected “Mawtini,” a folk tune popular throughout the Arab world, to replace the old anthem which glorified Saddam’s Baath party.
An Emirati royal family jet had whisked the Iraqis from the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, where they beat Saudi Arabia 1-0, to Dubai instead of their wartorn country, in a grand gesture by Dubai’s leader Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum.
With the kidnapping and killing of athletes rife in Iraq, the squad trains abroad, mostly in Gulf nations like the Emirates and Qatar.
In addition to sending his private jet to spare the team a long, economy-class flight from Indonesia, Dubai’s al-Maktoum presented the team with $5.45 million in cash. The sum dwarfed the $10,000 awarded to each player by Iraq’s leaders for the victory.
The Iraqi win, the country’s first in 51 years of the competition, brought a joke Wednesday from Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal during a press conference with visiting U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
When asked about accusations that Saudi Arabia has failed to back U.S. efforts for Iraq stability, al-Faisal insisted that Saudi Arabia was supportive of the Iraqi government, adding in jest, “As an indication of our good intentions, we let their team win.”
In Baghdad, fans called the remark sour grapes.
“It just shows the Saudis’ deep sadness over their defeat,” said Mohammed Abdul-Mahsin, 40, an employee in the transportation ministry. “The Saudis have spent large sums of money (on their team), but they got only failure. It seems that the Saudis failed to bribe the referee.”
In Dubai, the players lamented they could not celebrate at home, but Hussein Saeed, head of the Iraqi Football Federation, said they drew comfort from being among “brothers,” referring to the large numbers of Iraqi expatriates living in the Gulf.
“I would love to go back to Baghdad and see my family, but it is so difficult,” said midfielder Nashat Akram, as he was surrounded by a joyous throng.
“We are just so happy to bring a smile to the faces of all our countrymen,” said Iraqi team captain Younis Mahmoud, who scored Iraq’s only goal in Sunday’s finals.
AP correspondent Suhail Hussein in Amman contributed to this report.