IMAGE: Soccer celebration in Baghdad
Wissam Al-okaili  /  AFP - Getty Images
Residents of Baghdad's impoverished Sadr City celebrate after the Iraqi soccer team defeated Saudi Arabia to clinch its first Asian Cup championship on Sunday.
updated 7/29/2007 1:39:19 PM ET 2007-07-29T17:39:19

Defying orders from authorities, revelers fired celebratory gunshots and poured into the streets after Iraq beat Saudi Arabia to clinch its first Asian Cup soccer championship on Sunday.

Mosques broadcast calls to stop the shootings, which killed at least four people. Security forces enforced a vehicle ban in an effort to prevent a repeat of car bombings that killed dozens celebrating Iraq’s progress to the finals Wednesday.

Iraqis welcomed the victory as a chance to show the world they can come together and expressed frustration that their politicians couldn’t do the same.

“Those heroes have shown the real Iraq. They have done something useful for the people as opposed to the politicians and lawmakers who are stealing or killing each other,” said Sabah Shaiyal, a 43-year-old policeman in Baghdad. “The players have made us proud, not the greedy politicians. Once again, our national team has shown that there is only one, united Iraq.”

The Iraqi team, known as the “Lions of the Two Rivers” beat three-time champions Saudi Arabia 1-0 in its first appearance in the Asian Cup final.

The jubilation over the victorious run of the team has given Iraqis a rare respite from the daily sectarian attacks, with men of all ages cheering and dancing in the streets after each win.

But extremists seemed just as determined to destroy national pride and unity. Two car bombs tore through crowds of revelers in two Baghdad neighborhoods, killing 50 people after Wednesday’s semifinal victory over South Korea.

An Iraqi military official said police had foiled a suicide car bomber on Sunday by opening fire as the attacker took aim at a crowd in southwestern Baghdad. The driver was killed but no other casualties were reported, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to release the information.

Elsewhere, the mood was festive. In Baghdad, soccer fans danced and waved Iraqi flags in the streets, while women handed out sweets. People sprayed confetti from cans over the heads of jubilant crowds in the southern city of Basra.

“This winning has united the Iraqis and nobody has been this since a long time,” said Yassir Mohammed, a 35-year-old Sunni from western Baghdad, as the sounds of gunshots popped around him.

A show of unity
Hundreds of people also gathered in the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah, 160 miles northeast of Baghdad, chanting “Baghdad is victorious.” Revelers drove their cars through the streets, honking horns and waving Kurdish and Iraqi flags in a show of unity.

Iraqi politicians were quick to try to take advantage of the win.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s office issued a statement congratulating the team and said each member would receive $10,000 for their achievements. The Shiite leader’s office said earlier that it had planned to send a Cabinet delegation to the game, but had problems getting overflight permissions from countries it would have to cross en route to Indonesia.

The statement did not single out any countries or give more details.

At least four people were killed and 17 wounded by the shooting that broke out after Sunday’s game, according to initial reports by police and hospital officials.

Police in the predominantly Shiite southern city of Nasiriyah reported at least nine people, including three children, wounded by the gunfire. All the officials declined to be identified because they were not supposed to speak to the media.

U.S. military on guard
The vehicle ban — which began about a half hour before the game started and was to last through Monday morning — covered everything from cars and trucks to bicycles, motorcycles and carts. The ban was issued to keep “terrorists, Sunni extremists and criminals from targeting the joy of the people over the achievements of the Iraqi national team,” Iraqi military spokesman Qassim al-Moussawi said in an announcement broadcast on state television.

The U.S. military said it would position troops as necessary to maintain security nationwide.

The celebratory gunfire ignored pleas from both government and religious authorities after shots killed at least seven people following previous victories. The government had warned that anybody firing weapons in the air Sunday would be arrested.

“We call upon people to stick to two important recommendations,” Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Abdul Karim Khalaf said at a news conference.

“People should keep their celebrations within their own areas while security forces step up measures at the entry points to the areas,” he said. “Anybody caught shooting will be arrested and tried according to the Iraqi civil law.”

Al-Moussawi said that would include Iraqi security forces.

“Security forces are allowed to participate in the celebrations but without shooting into the air, otherwise they will face judicial measures,” he told The Associated Press in an interview.

Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, said celebratory gunfire was religiously prohibited to protect lives and spare people from being terrified, according to an official at his headquarters in the city of Najaf. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.

More violence elsewhere
In unrelated violence Sunday, gunmen opened fire on shoppers in a Shiite Turkomen village southwest of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, killing seven people and wounding six, police spokesman Brig. Gen. Sarhat Qadir said. Local residents blamed al-Qaida in Iraq, but the city has seen rising ethnic tensions amid disputes over Kurdish calls to incorporate it into their autonomous region.

Two U.S. soldiers also were killed — one by small-arms fire north of Baghdad and another in fighting in an eastern section of the capital, the military said.

A bomb also struck a minibus in eastern Baghdad, killing one passenger and wounding four, and a policeman was shot to death on his way to work southeast of the capital, police said.

Separately, Iraqi lawyers in Baghdad held a one-day strike to protest the violence that has struck the profession and to call on the government to provide them with protection.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Iraqis unite


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