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The Legacy of the American Empire: Fallujah and Football Played in a Cemetery | Policy


In cafes at night, Iraqis were glued to their television screens. Their istikanat of cold cardamom tea, forgotten under the billowing smoke of the thousandth cigarette of the night.

In the salons, the hands of mothers were raised in prayer. In Mosul, Basra and far corners of exile, the hearts of Iraqis raced to the chants of Moroccans as Walid Regragui’s Atlas Lions entered previously uncharted World Cup territory and conquered them in style.

Spain, Portugal and Belgium were beaten by Morocco and France by Tunisia. The “disjointed” Saudis, as the New York Times defines them, scored one of the best goals of the tournament against a distraught Argentina, now crowned world champion against France.

This is how we will remember the World Cup: Palestinian flags in the stands and Arab and North African triumphs on the pitch.

Alas, a few hundred, a few thousand of those who would have applauded were missing.

Their eyes would have twinkled as Sofyan Amrabat chased Kylian Mbappe down the left flank, winning the ball with an immaculate tackle that left the wonderkid writhing behind, before orchestrating play for another raid into Blues territory.

The missing are the children of Fallujah.

They are sleeping now. The soccer field where they allegedly imitated Achraf Hakimi and Yassine Bounou on cold winter afternoons is their resting place. Their mothers won’t worry about their mud-stained tracksuits tomorrow. They don’t wear them.

Today the field is known as the Cemetery of the Martyrs. This is where residents of the once beleaguered city buried women and children massacred during repeated assaults by the United States to quell a rebellion raging in the early years of the occupation. In Iraq, even playgrounds are now places of mourning. The war involved showering Fallujah with depleted uranium and white phosphorus.

But the American savagery did not stop there. Twenty years and countless birth defects later, the United States Navy names one of its warships the USS Fallujah.

In his Theses on the Philosophy of History, the late Walter Benjamin wrote: “He who emerged victorious participates to this day in the triumphal procession in which the current rulers step over those who are prostrate. In this procession, wrote the German revolutionary philosopher, “The booty is taken away”.

This is how the American Empire continues its war against the Iraqis. The name of Fallujah, bleached in white phosphorus implanted in the wombs of mothers for generations, is also the spoils of war. “Under extraordinary odds,” read a statement from the US Empire explaining the decision to name a warship after Fallujah, “the Marines prevailed against a determined enemy who enjoyed every advantage of defense in a urban area”.

Through this historic revisionism, the United States has launched a new assault on our dead. Benjamin had warned us: “Even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he wins. The enemy has won.

What remains is the haunting absence of family members, bombed-out homes and cremated photographs with smiling faces. Instead, a deadly corrupt system of intersect camaraderie in theft has been handed down to us by the unpunished war criminals of Downing Street and the Beltway.

Even football now promises to serve this system, which has imprisoned Iraqis in a state of war, a lucrative and stable anomaly. In January, the southern city of Basra hosts the Arab Gulf Cup, a regional football tournament. It’s a rare opportunity for Iraqis to see the national team that has long brought them the joy of playing at home.

“That’s how the besieged play! goes a 1990s song for the Lions of Mesopotamia, as the Iraq national football team is known. At the time, we were under United Nations-mandated “humanitarian” starvation, and Moroccan legend Mustapha Hadji gave us reason to smile in agony with his performance at the 1998 World Cup in France.

Many years and World Cups later, an umbilical cord stretching from Baghdad to Cairo to Rabat bound us all together behind the men of Morocco in red, Arabs and Amazighs, as they rebelled against the wounds of old and new imperialism.

But in Basra, sport will serve a different purpose – that of lending legitimacy to a system born of imperial might, and which has repeatedly failed the people it claims to represent.

In recent years, young civilians in Basra have been killed for peacefully protesting against an unlivable reality ruled by militias who make life and death decisions and strangle the economy in a degrading environment beyond salvation.

When football is played in the southern city and politicians pose for cameramen in the stands, mothers will mourn the loss of sons and daughters sent to their graves at the start of the October 2019 uprising. stadiums, their seats will remain empty, their voices are missing. This is how Iraq’s doomed existence is normalized through sportwashing.

While Iraqis’ homes are open to welcome loved ones from across the Arabian Peninsula, they are far from content with local politics.

The advent of a Coordination Framework government led by Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani signals no break with a violent past. On the contrary, more than ever, factions and armed groups loyal to Iran have tightened their grip on the reins of power.

Reading the daily news from my homeland from afar, the ghost of the late Iraqi poet Sargon Boulus visits me in Washington, DC. He whispers in my ear, “I’m coming to you from here/It’s annihilation.”

After 20 years in the arms of war, football, for once, will fail to bring smiles to young women who deliver malformed babies to be buried in Fallujah, a city ransacked with its name by the United States. Empire. For the mothers of young dead in Basra, it’s football played in a cemetery.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.




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