BAGHDAD: Celebratory shots rang out in Baghdad yesterday after the Iraqi national football team beat Kuwait 2-1 in a qualifying match for the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.
The firing of automatic weapons, a traditional form of celebration in Iraq, was heard when the final whistle blew on the match in Jordan after four tense minutes of extra time.
It was the first official game between the former foes since Saddam Hussein sent his army into Kuwait in August 1990.
US overseer in Iraq Paul Bremer also joined in the festive cheer, though without a gun.
“I represent all the individuals within the coalition when I say that we congratulate the Iraqis and join with them in celebrating the Olympic football team's victory today,” Bremer said, according to a spokesman.
“This is further evidence that civil society is returning to Iraq and the victory puts the team one step closer to the Olympic Games in Athens,” said Bremer, speaking after he delivered a televised speech laying out goals of his own to achieve before a handover of sovereignty to the Iraqi people on June 30.
Many Iraqis, enjoying an unprecedented time of media freedom since the fall of Saddam, were glued to their television sets for the duration of the match, which was broadcast at the same time as Bremer's key-note address.
Even policemen along Baghdad's central al-Saadun street left their posts where they control the traffic to join television spectators in nearby cafes.
“We have had enough of being on our guard all the time due to the security situation,” said Rahim Nassif, a police officer, who had rested his Kalashnikov assault rifle on the pavement to watch the game on a small television screen.
Kuwait is always a tough team to play, said Hamid Yares, a resident of Baghdad's eastern Karrada district.
“We hope the match will be a sign of reconciliation with our southern neighbours,” he said. – AFP