Iraq’s ‘Facebook’ cafes

With the World Cup only held every four years, football-crazed Iraqis still take to cafes to watch matches.

Afp July 01, 2014

BAGHDAD: Raad Abdulhussein sits glued to a television in a Baghdad cafe, anxious over the dual concerns of his team trailing in a World Cup match, and the danger of bombings amid the latest wave of sectarian violence gripping the country.

He puffs continually on a waterpipe as he sits quietly with three friends in the ‘Facebook’ cafe, the silence only broken by shouts or clapping when the Netherlands advance toward Mexico’s goal.

“Football brings us together,” says Raad, a 30-year-old taxi driver, who visits the cafe every day with his friends to watch the matches.

“It’s our only way to leave the atmosphere of worry and tension and fear of the unknown.”

Cafes are especially dangerous places, as militants often target them and other places where crowds of people gather, including markets and mosques.

But with the World Cup only held every four years, football-crazed Iraqis still take to cafes to watch matches.

“The World Cup is organised once every four years — do we sit in our homes and give in to fear?” said 31-year-old salesman Osama Salem.

“We sit and we are afraid, but what can we do?”

In sharply-divided Iraq, football is one of the few unifiers. This was especially the case in 2007, when the country cheered on the national side as it won the Asia Cup at the height of a brutal sectarian war.

“The World Cup is the most beautiful thing,” says Ali Hussein, a 21-year-old who works at the Facebook cafe.

“The whole world is watching it, and the people here are overjoyed by it and come to watch until late at night.

“Football is life for Iraqis, and we all remember the year 2007, when all the people went out in the street, no Sunni and no Shiite and no Kurds — everyone behind the team.”

Published in The Express Tribune, July 2nd, 2014.

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