Iraq's Gulf Cup stars given heroes' welcome in Baghdad after final win

Thousands of Iraqis pack the streets of the capital to greet the Lions of Mesopotamia

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Iraq’s national football team were given a heroes' welcome upon their return to Baghdad on Friday, a day after winning the Arabian Gulf Cup in the southern city of Basra.

Thousands of Iraqis packed the main streets of the capital, mainly along the motorway linking Baghdad International Airport to the city centre, to greet the Lions of Mesopotamia.

After their plane landed, the team were received on a red carpet as the Iraq National Band for Musical Heritage danced and sang, waving Iraqi flags.

Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani returned to Baghdad late on Thursday and held a meeting to discuss bolstering security for the victory celebrations after Iraq's 3-2 victory against Oman in the final.

The team, along with the Minister of Youth, the head of Iraqi Football Federation and the governor of Basra, were greeted with bouquets of flowers.

Security forces flanked the team bus which moved slowly due to crowds, which at points forced it to stop.

Security forces cordoned off the main roads leading to Grand Celebrations Square, which is part of the heavily fortified Green Zone, home to key government offices, foreign embassies and politicians' residences.

Fans were searched twice before entering the square. Many were draped in the Iraqi flag or carried them. Some children had Iraqi flags painted on their cheeks.

Traditional bands entertained fans who danced to songs praising Iraq and the national team.

“This joy is not only for the cup itself, but it is about a bigger achievement amid the exceptional situation we are living in,” Jawad Mohammed Jawad, 35, told The National.

Mr Jawad joined thousands of fellow Iraqis at square with his wife and two children.

“The tournament and the efforts exerted to make it a success have changed the image of Iraq in the eyes of the whole world,” he said, waving an Iraqi flag.

“It has sent a message to our brothers in the Gulf and to the whole world that we are peaceful and generous people who love life and other people.

“It also underlined our openness to the whole world and that Iraq is safe and capable to host major events.”

Sitting on a folding stool, Najat Abdul Zahra Hassan, 57, could not hold back the tears.

“I love Iraq,” Ms Hassan told The National. “I prayed and prayed during all the matches and was about to collapse in the final out of stress.

“It’s hard to describe the joy and happiness we are feeling now. We have suffered a lot and lost loved ones and that we need to be happy even for a short period of time.”

Updated: January 21, 2023, 4:44 AM