Iraq tightens security for Gulf Cup victory celebrations

A ceremony is expected to take place on Friday evening in the capital Baghdad

Fans celebrate in the centre of Baghdad on Thursday after Iraq defeated Oman to win the Arabian Gulf Cup. AFP
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Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani returned to Baghdad after the Arabian Gulf Cup final in Basra and held a meeting to discuss bolstering security for the national team’s victory celebrations.

Hosts Iraq won the Gulf Cup for the first time since 1988 with a 3-2 victory over Oman on Thursday but the triumph was marred by a deadly crush outside the Basra International Stadium that killed at least two people and injured dozens.

A ceremony was set to take place on Friday evening at the Great Celebrations square in central Baghdad.

The national team was expected to arrive at Baghdad Airport from Basra at 6pm local time.

Due to security concerns, Iraq have played only two football World Cup qualifiers at home since the US-led invasion of 2003 - one against Jordan in the northern city of Erbil in 2011 and the second against Hong Kong in Basra eight years later.

All other competitive games involving the national team have been played in neighbouring countries such as Jordan, Qatar and the UAE.

In the lead up to the tournament, authorities banned celebratory gunfire and ordered police to clamp down on misconduct.

“The security forces have issued clear orders to arrest anyone who tampers with security and opens fire during, or after the matches,” said Maj Gen Yahya Rasool, spokesman for the Armed Forces.

Despite the deadly incident on Thursday night and reports of violence after many were turned away from the 65,000-capacity Basra International Stadium before the final, Mr Al Sudani was optimistic that Iraq’s hosting of the 25th Gulf Cup would mark the beginning of a new chapter for the country.

“The Gulf Cup is a message to international sports institutions that Iraq is a safe country, that it has the capacity and capabilities enabling it to attract tournaments,” Mr Al Sudani said.

He urged football governing body Fifa to allow Iraq to play World Cup qualifiers on home soil.

“The simplest message that the international federation could give to the Iraqi fans is lifting the international ban on Iraqi stadiums,” he said.

The Gulf Cup, an eight-nation tournament that usually takes place every two years, kicked off on Jan. 6 with FIFA president Gianni Infantino in attendance.

Updated: January 20, 2023, 9:44 AM