Local fans of Arbil attacked the team bus of rivals Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya after their round 15 league match, which was played on Monday. The two clubs, who are currently battling it out for the Iraqi league title, drew 1-1 at the Franso Hariri Stadium.
The local security forces that were stewarding the game reportedly stood aside while fans attacked the team bus, breaking the side windows of the vehicle. Several Al-Jawiya players received minor cuts from flying glass and had to receive medical treatment.
This is not the first time Arbil fans have turned violent against opposing players or rival fans. A week after the 2011 Iraq League Championship play-off between Al-Zawraa and Arbil at the Al-Shaab Stadium in Baghdad, which Al-Zawraa won on penalties. Samar Saeed, then of Al-Zawraa, was attacked by an Arbil fan in one of the national team’s training sessions. This came after the heavy-handed treatment Arbil club fans received at the hands of the security forces and local fans in Baghdad.
At the 2012 AFC Cup final between Arbil and Kuwait at the Franso Harriri Stadium in Arbil, the Kurdish secret police Asaish deployed in plain clothes, prevented fans from carrying the Iraqi flag in the stadium, and removed them from supporters, wanting only Kurdish flags to be flown at the game.
Fans of the Iraqi national team gave a sigh of relief in 2011 when FIFA banned the Iraq FA from hosting international matches in the city of Arbil due to the flat support from the local Hewler fans, most of whom would rather watch a Kurdish national side instead. In some matches, a section of the local supporters have chanted against the Iraqi team.
There have been clear tensions between back-stabbing politicians in the central Baghdad government and the Kurdish region over the years, with each side eyeing the other with extreme suspicion, however there are no excuses to these scenes of violence in or around local stadiums, which have cropped up more and more over the years.
However this is not a problem that is exclusively associated with the fans of Arbil. Teams and supporters from the Kurdish regions have also complained of harsh treatment from Baghdad based fans when their clubs travel to play in the Iraqi capital. The scenes witnessed after the Arbil-Jawiya game have occurred often at football grounds from Zakho to Basra, and it needs to be addressed by the football authorities. Hooliganism in the 70s and 80s blighted football on the European continent and it seems that the same kind of culture is beginning to emerge on the terraces in the Iraqi game.
Cheering for your own team and booing the visitors is one thing, but throwing objects at players and physically assaulting opposing players or backroom staff is not the kind of thing Iraqi football wants to promote to the world.
The Iraq FA should act now before the problem grows further and we end up with fatal consequences. Football is about love, respect and sportsmanship, not hate, hooliganism and violence. Every football fan, player or official should feel safe at football grounds up and down the country.
But in Iraq, this will never happen, rather than cause embarrassment to Arbil and its owner, the Iraq FA with a key official
Abdul-Khaliq Masoud ‘Al-Mulla’ on the board of the Arbil club, will try and sweep this under the carpet, when a large fine and a home game played behind closed doors would be suffice.
Change is needed to benefit Arbil and Kurdish football and the rest of the clubs in the Iraqi league.