There’s no secret a vast majority of Kurds in the North don’t regard themselves as Iraqis. The Iraqi flag, apart from national functions and ceremonies is almost absent in the Region of Kurdistan (of Iraq), the KRG government has made it a policy over the last 20 years to educate the people in Kurdish and English – leaving Arabic off the national curriculum – to further distance themselves from Iraq’s majority. However in football, the clubs in the region continue to take part in the Iraqi league, some players have moved to Baghdad to play for top Iraqi clubs while the current President of the Iraq FA is a Kurd.
The best team in Iraq is the Arbil Sports Club based in the city where the KRG parliament building is based, and it is also where local spectators at the Shahid Franso Hariri stadium cheer for mainly Baghdad-born players in the bright yellow shirts of the home side, however when these players put on the green shirts of Iraq at the same venue, the support is often flat and subdued and chants against the Iraqi side is common.
There have been Kurdish players representing the Iraqi side over the years however like the rest of the provinces in Iraq there has been a clear prejudice and discrimination demonstrated from the football hierarchy in the country, often preferring players from Baghdad.
In the recent days, two of the most talented Iraqi-Kurdish footballers playing in Europe, Jiloan Hamad and Zana Allée have been holidaying in Arbil and Duhok, and the duo have relatives and continue to have links to the region. Zana’s uncle Nejirvan Shukri has twice appeared for Iraq in unofficial friendlies under German coach Wolfgang Sidka and was one the bench against Syria in 2011 at the Franso Hariri, and is playing for Duhok based Zeravani.
The lives of Jiloan and Zana are just two stories of the diaspora, a story that can be told a million times. Jiloan’s family lived in the old Soviet Union, where he was born in Baku while Zana left Iraq at an early age to settle in France. Their lives represent the war-torn history of Iraq just as any other Iraqi.
Numerous Iraqi football fans have called on the Iraq FA and its members to meet and discuss a possible inclusion into the national side especially with the Asian Cup in Australia so near and the team needing new blood.
Kurdish players representing Iraq is not something new, there have been countless since the team’s inception. The first Iraqi national team featured one of the nation’s best footballers, a tiny 5 ft 5 inch outside left who went by the name of Hama Peshka.
Politics and time has forgotten this one Kurdish footballer who at his prime was considered one of the best footballers in Iraq.
In 1951, the late Hama was a key member of the Iraqi football community. When he wasn’t playing football for Haris Al-Maliki, he was refereeing matches in the Iraqi Football League. He was one of the most well-known names in Iraqi sports and when the first Iraqi national side was formed in early 1951, one of the first names the FA selectors jotted down on their list was Hama Peshka, alongside Nassir Chico and Toma Abdul-Ahad. The three elder statesman of Iraqi football.
Hama was a star of his era, the captain of one of Iraq’s best football teams the Royal Guards, and even captained their hockey team. The legend passed away many years ago and his memory has long been forgotten.
The new Iraqi FA president Abdul-Khaliq Masoud Al-Mulla has stated that one of his aims after his election victory is to overturn FIFA’s ban on playing international matches inside of Iraq, and if he’s successful, we could see Iraq back playing at the Franso Hariri Stadium in Arbil and with FIFA’s door open for Jiloan and Zana to play for Iraq, this could be the perfect opportunity for the Iraqi FA president, to get support for the national side and see Iraq play on home soil.
If Jiloan and Zana were on the Iraqi team, there would be bigger support for the team in Arbil and see more support from other parts of the Kurdish region, they could also do more for national unity in the country than the whole Iraqi (sectarian) political parties and parliament combined.
Jiloan and Zana for Iraq!