Bittersweet Victory

Iraq hasn’t had much to cheer about for a long time, its country ravaged by civil war, a third of its populace in need of emergency medical attention, a political establishment that seems uncapable of working together, and an infrastructure that is still woefully inadequate.

So when the Iraqi soccer team won the Asia Cup, it was a bright yet brief moment for the beleaguered Iraqis. There was a sense of unity, and for at least a short while, there seemed to a small reprieve from the violence.

But with any sports victory, this too has already passed. In America, superbowls are celebrated, and then relegated to the annals of sports history; printed on T-Shirts for fans to remember they watched it happen, and cut up into bite-sized clips for NFL films to be shown in documentaries and on ESPN.

I don’t know the fate of Iraq’s victory. I doubt they have a soccer hall of fame, and with many areas still only receiving intermittent electricity, I question how many people will be fondly watching replays during the weeks and months to come. They got to enjoy a beautiful moment, but that even seemed to be punctuated by a car bomb, killing six, and injuring about a dozen.

As if to put final rest to the long lasting healing effects of the victory, the captain of the team, the only person to score a goal in the final game, will not be going home to the country he represented.

His fear that anyone could kill him stands as a powerful counterpoint to the success of a team once terrorized by Saddam’s psychotic son Uday. There is a stark reality to his refusal to go home, like a runaway petrified to return to the home of abusive parents.

The team itself is a contradiction. It wears the colors of its nation, but the team’s actual home is outside of the country’s borders. Much of its equipment is provided not by Iraq, nor by America which has only exacerbated the ravages going on there, but by the English. They are icons, heroes who display hope for a nation that they will not enter.

And yet, Younis Mahmoud, the twenty-four-year-old captain, though he will not reenter his country as it stands now, still seems to speak with the voice of his people:

“I don’t want the Iraqi people to be angry with me,” he said. “But, if I go back with the team, anybody could kill me or try to hurt me.

“One of my closest friends, they (the authorities) came to arrest him and for one year neither me nor his family knew where he was.

“I want America to go out,” he said. “Today, tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, but out. I wish the American people didn’t invade Iraq and hopefully it will be over soon.”

I am thrilled for the Iraqi people. This victory is rightfully theirs, and more so, any respite from the nightmare that is day-to-day life for them is something I wish for them all the time. But this victory is bittersweet, riddled with reminders of reality, like a vacation you know you have to return from, a dream from which you know you are destined to wake.

I think I join many Iraqi’s when I wish for a day when they can have these victories not tinged with pain and reminders of the horrors they will have to face the next day. When their heroes can come home, and when the nightmares are only that, nightmares.

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