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Saddam anthem mars Iraq's welcome


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Saddam anthem mars Iraq's welcome

Posted: Wednesday August 1, 2007 4:50PM; Updated: Wednesday August 1, 2007 4:50PM


DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- A celebration thrown by the ruler of Dubai for the Iraqi soccer team after its Asian Cup win was marred when Iraq's Saddam Hussein-era national anthem was played, angering many players and prompting some to walk away.

Confetti rained down as the players arrived late Tuesday at the Dubai airport where thousands of cheering fans gathered to welcome the team and celebrate the victory.

But some players and members of the Iraqi delegation walked out in protest when the organizers put on Saddam's anthem instead of the country's new one, according to Bassam al-Husseini, a representative of Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who flew with the team.

An Emirati royal family jet had whisked the Iraqis from the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, where they beat Saudi Arabia 1-0, to Dubai instead of their wartorn country, in a grand gesture by Dubai's leader Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum.

Team officials protested to Emirates officials over the Saddam anthem and "they later apologized," Najeh Hamoud, from the Iraqi soccer federation, told U.S.-funded Radio Sawa which broadcasts in Arabic in the Mideast.

He added that the mistake was apparently made by a technician who did not know about a new anthem.

After Saddam's overthrow, new Iraqi authorities selected "Mawtini," a folk tune popular throughout the Arab world, to replace the old anthem which glorified Saddam's Baath party.

The Iraqi win brought a joke Wednesday from Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, who during a press conference with visiting U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was asked about accusations that Saudi Arabia has failed to back U.S. efforts for Iraq stability.

The foreign minister insisted that Saudi Arabia was supportive of the Iraqi government, adding in jest, "As an indication of our good intentions, we let their team win."

In Baghdad, fans called the remark just sour grapes. "It just shows the Saudis' deep sadness over their defeat," said Mohammed Abdul-Mahsin, 40, an employee in the transportation ministry. "The Saudis have spent large sums of money (on their team), but they got only failure. It seems that the Saudis failed to bribe the referee."

On Wednesday, the team arrived in the Jordanian capital, Amman, greeted at their hotel by hundreds of joyful Iraqis, waving Iraqi flags as they chanted and danced.

"If they (Saudis) really let us win, then it seems that they have been doing that for a long time now, because we have already defeated them twice before," laughed Qutayba al-Darraji 23, a member of the Iraqi Association for Football fans, standing at the hotel with a flag draped around him.

Iraq's leaders have publicly congratulated the team and awarded each player $10,000 for the victory.

Their gratitude was dwarfed by Dubai's al-Maktoum, who along with sending his private jet to spare the team a long economy-class flight from Indonesia, also presented it with $5.45 million in cash.

With the kidnapping and killing of athletes rife in Iraq, the team trains abroad, mostly in Gulf nations like the Emirates and Qatar.

In Dubai, the players lamented they could not celebrate at home, but Hussein Saeed, head of the Iraqi Football Federation, said they drew comfort from being among "brothers," referring to the large numbers of Iraqi expatriates living in the Gulf.

"I would love to go back to Baghdad and see my family, but it is so difficult," said midfielder Nashat Akram, as he was surrounded by a joyous throng.

It was the first time that Iraq won the title since the competition began 51 years ago.

"We are just so happy to bring a smile to the faces of all our countrymen," said Iraqi team captain Younis Mahmoud, who scored Iraq's goal in Sunday's finals.

Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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