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Iraqi Football Win Marred By Post-Match Fighting

Jordanian fans harass Iraqis after losing game, marking divisions between communities.
By Abeer Mohammed

A home defeat for the Jordanian football team against Iraq in Amman has highlighted tensions between Iraqi refugees and locals.

Angry Jordanian fans clashed with Iraqis in street battled after last week’s match at the Amman International Stadium ended in a 3-1 defeat for the home team.

“How dare they [Iraqis] celebrate in our home,” Mohammed al-Aqrabawi, a 27-year-old Jordanian, said outside the stadium gate. “They celebrate our loss before our eyes, in our home – they deserve to get beaten up.”

Ahead of the November 15 match, Jordanian forces were out in force in the suburb where the stadium is located. After the game, police had to move in to disperse the crowds, making some arrests, although officials declined to give any numbers.

There were also some light injuries, and reports of assaults against Iraqis living in Amman.

“I wasn’t doing anything. I am not interested in football and that kind of thing at all,” said Uthman Mahmud, a young Iraqi who has lived in Jordan for three years. “I’d gone out to buy cigarettes when a group of Jordanian young men surrounded me and beat me.”

There are around 500,000 Iraqis in Jordan, according to statistics gathered by international organisations. Most are illegal residents who fled their country following the violence that erupted after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003.

Most are not recognised as official refugees by the Jordanian authorities, and have no real status.

The Iraqi government has launched a programme to help more than two million refugees return, but that remains impossible for most. Many fear continuing instability in Iraq, and are reluctant to come back to high unemployment and minimal social services, or to find that their homes and properties have been occupied by others, or destroyed.

The large number of Iraqis in Jordan, whose population is only six million, has placed a strain on the country's limited resources.

Wathiq al-Hashemi, a lecturer in political science at Baghdad University in Iraq, said the football match brought long-standing tensions between some Jordanians and Iraqi refugees to the surface.

“Incoming Iraqis compete with Jordanians for limited job opportunities, and the newcomers accept poorer conditions of employment, reducing Jordanian citizen's chances of getting work,” al-Hashemi said. “This creates tensions between Jordanians and Iraqis.”

Sectarian factors also came into play, Hashemi said, explaining, that most Iraqis are Shia Muslims, while Jordan is solidly Sunni.

“Fights among football fans are common, but it’s harder to accept when it’s between refugees and the people of a host country,” he added.

The Iraqi authorities declined to comment officially on the post-match violence, but Ali al-Mosawi, a media advisor to the government, said, “I am certain that neither the Jordanian government nor the Jordanian people approve of this; they are the actions of individuals and do not reflect the Jordanian position.”

Iraqi human rights activist Sabeh Abdulmunaim disagreed, saying, “It doesn’t matter whether there are few people or a lot of them,” he added. “A single abuse is a violation of human rights.”

Ali, an Iraqi living in Jordan, avoided the trouble by holding a post-match party in his flat with some fellow fans. Jordanian friends phoned him to congratulate him on the Iraqi victory.

“One of them told me that we’re brothers, so Iraq winning should make all of us happy,” he said.

Abeer Mohammed is IWPR editor for Iraq.
 

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