US-Iran match reflects a regional rivalry for many Arab fans

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BAGHDAD (AP) The US team’s must-win World Cup match against Iran has drawn attention across the Middle East, where the two nations have been locked in a Cold War for more than 40 years and many have defended one or both. I’m here. Local responsibility is disastrous.

Critics of Iran argue that Iran has fomented war and unrest in the Arab world by backing powerful armed groups in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Palestinian territories. Proponents believe it is leading a “resistance axis” against US imperialism, corrupt Arab rulers, and Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people.

The division is particularly sharp in Lebanon and Iraq, where heavily armed Iran-backed political factions vie for political influence with more Western-leaning opponents. Many in these countries believe that Iran and the United States should receive compensation. Others want the plague on both houses.

“Both are Iraqi opponents and have played a negative role in Iraq,” said Haider Shakar of downtown Baghdad’s Karadah district, where both countries’ flags are displayed outside a cafe. It’s a sporting event, and we’re both in it, and that’s what we are all about.”

A widely circulated meme ahead of Tuesday’s match between the United States and Iran jokingly referred to “the first time they’ve played outside Lebanon.” Another Twitter user joked that whoever won the group stage would “take Iraq.”

Iran-backed Hezbollah, since 1975, has been the only armed group to retain arms after the 1990 Lebanese civil war. It says the weapons are necessary to defend the country against Israel and blames US sanctions for part of Lebanon’s economic crisis. Opponents have accused Hezbollah of “occupying Iran”, and many Lebanese have accused both the United States and Iran of interfering in their internal affairs.
In Iraq, the 2003 US-led invasion sparked years of violent violence and sectarian strife, filling the void with Iran-backed political factions and militias. The US military and Iran-backed militias have found themselves on the same side against the Islamic State militant group, but have engaged in several shootouts since their defeat.

Both Lebanon and Iraq grapple with years of political stalemate, with a key demarcation line between Iran’s allies and opponents.

In Yemen, Houthi militias allied with Iran took over the capital and much of the north in 2014. Since then, it has been at war with a number of factions backed by two US allies, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

In the Syrian civil war, Iran supported the government of President Bashar Assad against rebel groups, including those backed by the West. It supports extremist groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Interviews with football fans in Beirut and Baghdad before the game revealed mixed feelings.

“Of course, I am not pro-Iran after all the disasters that Iran has caused,” said Beirut-based Aline Nouehed. “Definitely I’m pro-American,” she added, but even the United States “isn’t helping us 100 percent.”

In Baghdad, Ali Fadel wants to support Iran. Because she said, “Iran is a neighbouring country, a country in Asia.”

“There are many connections between us and them,” he added.

Noor Sabah plans to stand up for the United States because “they are a strong team and [the United States] rules the world.”

Regional politics hinged on the final duel between the United States and Iran at the 1998 World Cup. It happened less than 20 years after that, leading to an ongoing hostage crisis

This comes less than 20 years after Iran’s Islamic revolution overthrew the US-backed Shah, causing protesters to take over the US embassy and spark an ongoing hostage crisis.

French riot police were stationed at the Lyon stadium that year, but they didn’t need to. The teams posed together for a group photo, with Iranian players bringing white roses for their opponents.

In this year’s matchup, loyalties were shaken by Iran’s nationwide protests, with some Iranians openly rooting for their country’s teams. The players refused to sing the national anthem before the opening game, which was seen as an expression of sympathy for the protests, but reversed course and sang it before the next game. advertisement
Daniel Reich, an associate visiting professor at Qatar’s Georgetown University who studies sports policy, said the World Cup fan base is not necessarily an indicator of political affiliation, even in countries with deep divisions.

In Lebanon, for example, local sports are “highly politicized”, with all major basketball and soccer clubs having political and sectarian affiliations, he noted. When it comes to choosing their favourite national team for the World Cup they never won, fans look to a number of associations.

This is true across the region, where fans in Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo shirts can be seen from Gaza to Afghanistan.

“This is one of the few areas where people have the freedom and freedom to simply choose the country they want, rather than the one they feel obligated to belong to,” Rich said.