Baghdad: As a seven-year-old boy in Baghdad, Muhammad Ali dreamed of becoming a goalkeeper until a car bomb in central Taharir Square tore his left arm. The child became another victim of phlebotomy of a sect that was furious in Iraq in the years following the 2003 US-led invasion that defeated Saddam Hussein. “I was deprived of playing soccer,” he said, recalling the traumatic event of 2007 when he finished his time with the junior soccer team in the Air Force club in Baghdad.

Today, 22-year-old Ali is a member of an amputee soccer team consisting entirely of players who have lost their arms and legs in Iraq’s many years of war and turmoil. “The creation of this team has brought me back to life,” he said. “It helped me regain my confidence.” The team has about 30 players and is qualified for the Amputee Soccer World Cup in Turkey in late 2022. Founder Mohamed Arnajar was studying in England when he discovered a team of amputees in Portsmouth and decided to recreate that experience. Returning to Iraq, he posted an announcement on social networks. “Applications began to flow in and we formed a team in August 2021,” recalls the 38-year-old lawyer.

‘Depression’

Najjar’s right leg was amputated after being injured “while participating in a battle with an Islamic State group” in 2016. At that time, Najar, like some of his teammates, was fighting pro-Iranian Hashed Al Chaabi, a paramilitary organization integrated into Iraq’s regular army. He currently meets with the group three times a week and is training in one of the fields of the new Al-Chaab complex in Baghdad.

Using crutches, one-legged athletes sprint and warm up in the national team’s green jersey to practice penalty kicks. The goalkeeper with the left arm amputated intercepts the ball by blocking it with the stomach. Before they found friendship with the team, Najar said, “Most players suffered from severe depression.” “Some people lost their limbs and thought about suicide because they were formerly professional players.

“But we have overcome these psychological problems,” he said, adding that he was happy to see his players “post photos with the team on social networks.” rice field. In the official tournament, a team of 7 people will play in a field of 60 x 40 meters. The goal is 2 meters high and 5 meters wide, which is smaller than the 2.4×7.3 meter goal used in traditional soccer.

“Daddy, go to the train”

The Iraqi state provides financial assistance to victims of attacks and fights against jihadists. Players receive a monthly allowance of $ 400 to $ 700. According to Najjar, in most cases he can benefit from working as a day laborer in the market. But a major obstacle for his team is the lack of official approval and thus funding from Iraqi sports organizations. The Polish-based International Football Federation of Amputees is not part of the International Paralympic Committee. Therefore, the Iraqi team has not received state subsidies, said Aqil Hamid, chairman of the Parliamentary Commission on Sports for the Disabled. For equipment and transportation, the team relies on donations from the association, Najjar said. There is also occasional support from some hashed bodies.

“They helped me travel to Iran. They paid for the plane tickets,” Najjar said, adding that he wanted “broader support.” Another team member, Arica Jim, lost his left foot in a car bomb in Baghdad in 2006 and suddenly ended his professional soccer career at an Air Force club. “I couldn’t pursue my ambitions, I was at home,” said the 38-year-old. Today, his four children are his biggest supporters. “They are the people who pack my sports bags,” he said. “They tell me:” Daddy, go to the train. ” My morale has changed completely. – AFP

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