Soccer fans hopeful ahead of Gulf Cup in Iraqi city of Basra


For many Iraqis, their country’s hosting of the first international. Soccer tournament in more than four decades in the southern city. Basra will offer a rare moment of joy and optimism.

If the 25th edition of the Gulf Cup goes ahead

The eight-nation Arab Gulf Cup kicks off on Friday. With six Gulf Cooperation Council nations – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia. And the United Arab Emirates – as well as Yemen and Iraq. For the first time since 1979, turmoil-torn Iraq will host the tournament.

For two weeks, the matches will be free from all violence, political. And economic crises, fans and officials said. FIFA has banned Iraq from hosting international matches due to decades of unrest and conflict.

If the 25th edition of the Gulf Cup goes ahead

Which forced the Iraqi team to play home games abroad. Since the US-led invasion in 2003 that ousted dictator Saddam Hussein. Iraq has played three competitive matches at home.

If the 25th edition of the Gulf Cup goes ahead. It could encourage FIFA to allow World Cup qualifiers to return to Baghdad.

“As Iraqis we have suffered for decades. And so we are very happy that this Gulf tournament can be held on Iraqi soil in Basra.” Said Akram al-Iraqi, a resident of Basra. Strolling along the bustling Corniche promenade by Shatt. Al-Arab, the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

If the 25th edition of the Gulf Cup goes ahead

Besides, Iraq’s relations with the GCC have been strained. For decades due to the growing importance of Iran-backed militias. And political parties in the country. Basra, the center of Iraq’s petroleum industry. Has not been spared the country’s political turmoil, violent conflict and crumbling infrastructure.

“Most people from the Gulf countries consider Basra. And Iraq unsafe,” said Fuad al-Helfi, another resident of Basra, standing outside a hotel. “But it seems they’re changing their approach … we’re seeing it in the posts they’re making on social media.”

It will help revive the economy and tourism

There is also hope for economic growth. The oil-rich boss has fallen on hard times due to climate change-induced rising temperatures. And droughts and poor management of water resources.

Its agricultural sector has been decimated while its once famous tourism industry has collapsed. About 40% of Basra’s estimated 1.4 million people live in poverty, while unemployment is on the rise.

“It will help revive the economy and tourism.” Said Laith Jasb, a middle-aged resident who remembers better times.

Iraqi families with children stroll along the Shatt al-Arab Corniche with Saudi and Kuwaiti tourists. Traders line the promenade selling coffee, gifts and Iraqi flags. In a nearby hotel lobby, waiters rushed to bring patrons coffee and shisha. Traditional water pipes for smoking tobacco.

Adel Qabbasi, a Yemeni journalist who flew to Basra for the tournament. 

Noor Majeed, a soccer fan visiting Basra from the capital Baghdad. Said he hoped the Gulf Cup would help ease. “Some political tension” with GCC countries and encourage their investment.

“this is an opportunity for Iraq and the Gulf countries to rebuild their relationship,” he said.

The Iraqi Football Federation sees the tournament. As an opportunity to regain confidence in hosting more sporting events in Iraq.

If the 25th edition of the Gulf Cup goes ahead

Yousif Fayal, media director of the federation, said.

Hoping for the trophy, Iraq first won the tournament as hosts in 1979 and twice more in the 1980s. Grouped with Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Oman for the first round in Basra, Iraq are now hoping to win their fourth tournament.

The top two teams from each group advance to the semi-finals. The final will be held at Basra International Stadium, with around 65,000 spectators on 19 January.

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