Outrage in Iraq over football tournament opening ceremony

Vice President Nouri Al Maliki and religious authorities condemn show featuring women performers

Iraqi Vice President Nouri Al Maliki and Shiite religious authorities have expressed outrage over the opening ceremony of a regional football tournament in the holy city of Karbala that featured women playing music and dancing.

Widely shared video of the event shows a woman playing a violin as she walks on to the pitch of the Karbala International Stadium, one of two venues for the West Asia Football Federation Championship that began on Tuesday. Another woman in white robes is seen dancing solo as male participants run around her.

Mr Al Maliki, who is also secretary general of the Islamic Dawa Party, condemned the performance that "damaged the sanctity" of the city housing the shrine of Shiite religious figure Imam Hussein.

"We call on the government to open an urgent investigation to hold accountable those who are behind the blatant violation of the sanctity of the holy city, whether it is the local government or the Ministry of Youth and Sport or the Iraqi Football Federation," he said in a statement posted on Facebook.

Iraq's Office of Shia Endowment also released a statement denouncing the "blatant violation of the holy sanctity of Karbala", describing the ceremony as a "heinous act which has exceeded the legitimate limits and the moral restrictions that must be observed" in the holy city.

The local government in Karbala said it had nothing to do with the opening ceremony, which was organised by Iraq's Ministry of Youth and Sport.

A ministry spokesman in turn accused Iraqi politicians of hypocrisy. “There are Iraqi politicians who first need to go and close all the bars and nightclubs in Baghdad before attacking the Ministry of Youth and Sport,” Ahmed Al Musawi told the Kurdish news agency Rudaw.

The 2019 WAFF Championship is the first international tournament being hosted by Iraq since Fifa lifted a ban on the country hosting international matches in March last year.

Iraq defeated Lebanon 1-0 in the opening fixture in Karbala on Tuesday. Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan, Palestine, Syria and Yemen are the other countries taking part in the tournament, which ends on August 14. The matches are being held in Karbala and Erbil, capital of the Iraqi Kurdish region.