Playing for Iraq Utd

Despite the bloody sectarian violence, some Iraqis find unity in football.

    Seif says the players learn to cope with the violence

    This is exactly how Baghdad used to be - a mixed city where people had no differences when it came to religion or ethnicity.


    Seif is 24-years old and a Sunni. He tries to play at the pitch every day, although sometimes the roads are blocked because of the random violence always plaguing Baghdad.


    Still, Seif says there is always a way.


    "We learn to cope. There could explosions and gunfire, [but] we still continue to play, we got used to it," he tells Al Jazeera.


    Welcome distraction


    His fiercest opponent on the pitch, and dear friend, is Ali, a Shia.


    "Here I have Sunni and Shia friends, we come and play together and there are no misunderstandings"

    Ali, football player in Baghdad

    "There is no difference between Sunni and Shia," Ali says.


    "We got used to playing together, these differences are new, they come from overseas.


    "Here I have Sunni and Shia friends, we come and play together and there are no misunderstandings."


    The game is a welcome distraction for those on and off and the pitch. The players have a small fan club, also desperate to take their minds off the violence all around.


    "This is our only distraction from all what is going on in the country," says Haider, a fan.


    "[I hate] the sectarian war, the violence, the destruction and all the problems, so I come here for an hour or so and get a bit of fresh air. We forget the pain and sadness by watching them play."


    Political independence


    Several parties have tried to exert their influence on the players by offering money - after all they need it to make their field green and to buy some equipment.


    However, the players turned the offer down, preferring to remain independent from all politics, although security guards watch over games just in case.


    Ali says he tries never to miss a game because there is more to it than just kicking a ball.


    "It takes my mind away from the explosions that happen all around us, the killing of innocent people and all the other problems," he says.


    In Saturday's game he is the star, scoring two goals. However, he says they are not Sunni goals but Iraqi goals, for Sunnis and Shia.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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