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Iraqi Football Team Relocates From Baghdad to Irbil for Safety

No segment of Iraqi society seems to be safe from the violence, including those in the world of sports. In July, members of the Iraqi Olympic National Committee and more than 30 others were kidnapped in Baghdad. This past week, a suicide bomber killed 10 people at a sports stadium in Hadhar. The Iraqi national football team has also received death threats. As a precaution, it has relocated from Baghdad to the northern city of Irbil.

The Iraqi national football team is now practicing in the northern city of Irbil, in the relatively peaceful Kurdish region of the Iraq.

Team manger Akram Salman says he wanted to resign because of death threats, but could not find anyone to take his place. So, he made the decision to move the team out of Baghdad.

"As everyone knows, the situation in Iraq is very dangerous, especially for the professional players," he said. "None of them could play in Baghdad. We received many calls against the players and coaches. It made it dangerous for our lives and our souls."

To many Iraqis, this team is a symbol of unity, and proves that, despite their differences Iraqis can work together.

"Like one team, there are Kurds, Arabs, Muslims, and Christians from everyplace, Baghdad, Mosul, and Basra. Everyplace! It is like a basket of fruit," said Team trainer Jalal Rahman.

And he says that is why the team is being targeted by those who want to divide the country. Team members say that, the team will continue to represent Iraq, regardless of where it is located.

"These dangers are trying to stop us and all sports," said Forward Emad Mohammad. "But we have decided to struggle on as a team, the Iraqi National Team. And as part of the team, I try to prove this by playing for the team and succeeding, despite this difficult situation."

Based here in Irbil, the team hopes it can now focus exclusively on football.