Tehran, Iran – Iran has summoned the ambassador of neighbouring Iraq to protest against its use of the “Arabian Gulf Cup” name for a regional football tournament as part of a long-standing dispute over the waterway’s name.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said on Wednesday that Tehran had communicated its dissatisfaction about the use of the name to the Iraqi envoy despite the “strategic, brotherly and deep relations” they share.
“Mr Sudani, the Iraqi prime minister, has corrected this issue in a post that was recently published on a virtual space,” he was quoted as saying by state media in an apparent reference to a social media post by Mohammed al-Sudani, in which he uses “Gulf Cup” to describe the tournament.
Iran and the region’s Arab states have quarrelled for decades over what the major waterway that separates them should be called. Tehran insists on the use of Persian Gulf. While that name is common in the English-speaking world, many Arab countries insist on the Arabian Gulf instead.
The latest row began last week as the southern port city of Basra hosted the opening ceremony of the tournament, which brought together Iraq’s Arab neighbours in the region – Saudi Arabia, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Yemen – for the latest edition of the football tournament.
Iraq is hosting the competition for only the second time, and the first time since 1979. The two-week competition has been billed as a sign that the country is exiting its political turmoil during which it was without a government for a year and saw continual protests. It is also an opportunity to boost ties with other Arab states.
Al-Sudani reportedly described the tournament as the Arabian Gulf Cup in the opening ceremony as did FIFA President Gianni Infantino.
Football’s global governing body also used the Arabian Gulf Cup name in its posts on social media as did Muqtada al-Sadr, the Iraqi Shia leader whose politics have increasingly been at odds with Tehran over the years.
While Iran has long objected to any attempt to use Arabian Gulf on the international stage, it appears that its usage in its neighbour Iraq, where it has strong ties to the government, has particularly angered it.
Iran’s football federation said it will officially protest to FIFA and has decided to name the country’s annual knockout football competition the Persian Gulf Cup. It has also emblazoned “Persian Gulf” in large letters on the seats of Azadi Stadium in Tehran during a cup match on Tuesday.
Sport has long been used to push for regional countries’ preferred names for the Gulf. Iran’s main league football competition is called the Persian Gulf Pro League while the UAE’s domestic competition was previously called the Arabian Gulf League.
Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani told reporters on Monday that Tehran has protested the use of the “fake” name while a lawmaker called on Iraqi officials to apologise, something they have refused to do.
The dispute has broken out as the Iraqi prime minister, who came to power with the support of Tehran-backed factions late last year after one year of political deadlock, has been trying to balance Iraq’s relations between Iran and Arab states.
Al-Sudani made his first trip to Tehran as prime minister in late November, meeting with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi.
He also participated in a summit between Arab and Chinese leaders in Riyadh last month as well as the second iteration of the Baghdad Conference for Cooperation and Partnership, which was hosted by Jordan.