For most Iraqis, the summer ushers in a time of great tribulation. In occupied Iraq, and for more than a decade under a regime of genocidal sanctions, the hottest time of the year accentuates the failures of the state in the most horrific of ways.
Towering heaps of garbage, overflowing sewage, and a ravaged health system turn the Land of the Two Rivers into a wasteland of communicable diseases. Absent electric power, an intermittent water supply, and a shortage in space within civil society, make the heat, reaching past the fifties, unbearable, and turns the entire country into a pressure cooker. As for the political developments in Iraq, riddled with corruption and theft, and underlined by relentless violence, they promise a new season of death and destruction.
For Saif Jwad, a lifelong Baghdad resident, however, all these matters seem to become bearable by virtue of his country s anticipated escapades on the international football scene. Along with Egypt, the Iraqi national team is set to participate in the FIFA Confederations Cup, due to take place in South Africa on June 14-28.
In recent years, the Iraqi team has offered a sense of much needed relief for millions of Iraqis living and dying in the clutches of oppression, and with little to look forward to.
When we won the Asian Cup in 2007, every Iraqi forgot about the death unfolding in front of their eyes, and for the first time in many years, we felt a sense of hope through our unity, says Jwad from his home in the northern parts of Baghdad.
After the Iraqi victory two years ago, millions of people defied American imposed curfews and flirted with sectarian scented violence to celebrate the achievement, the first of its kind for Iraqi football.
Jwad, who lost his father in the Iraq-Iran war, works in the Ministry of Housing to support his mother and sister. Despite his hectic life, the 32-year-old, recently married, plans to follow every single match.
Although we are disappointed with the team s recent showing in the Gulf Cup, we are a people in love with football, and during these difficult times, it s all we have, Jwad told Daily News Egypt.
For the players, the impact their game has off the pitch is the driving force behind their continental dominance. Helkert Mullah Mohammad, a more recent addition to the squad, looks forward to playing on the big stage, and giving back to Iraq.
Although we are out of World Cup qualifications, I am really looking forward to getting a chance to represent Iraq on the big stage, against teams like Spain, and relish the opportunity to bring joy to my people, Mohammed says.
Mohammad is aware of the difficulty of the task that lays ahead, but he insists that Iraq will play at a level that would be fitting of the country s heroic legacy. He points to how the team lives off, putting the people in our hearts, and wearing their misery on our shirts.
In addition to sheer determination, Iraq s tactical advantage is boosted by the appointment of Serbian coach Bora Militunovic. The 64-year-old legend is the only manager to lead five different countries to the World Cup finals. He is confident that he will be adding to his list of achievements by delivering a shock to the football world.
With a positive state of mind and efficient preparation, we can achieve anything, Militunovic told Daily News Egypt.
Despite his buoyant optimism, Iraq s newest coach is cognizant of the tremendous obstacles that both the players and ordinary Iraqis face in their daily lives.
I am very sad about the horrible situation in Iraq, and I have intense respect for Iraqis, and particularly for the kids that play football on the streets, and the fans that confront death by attending league matches in stadiums throughout the country, he adds.
Iraq s latest friendly against Poland, played in Cape Town, resulted in a draw, and showcased the talent of Iraqi players ahead of the international competition. The team, known as the Lions of the Two Rivers by its adoring fans, continues to put in good displays despite the absence of a home stadium, and with very humble resources.
The millions of dollars spent on football by countries from the affluent Gulf, and by powerhouses like Australia, Japan, and Korea seem to fizzle in their impact when they are faced by the fiery spirit of the Iraqis.
For Jwad, who along with millions of Iraqis will huddle around television sets to support their team, the good results achieved by the national team are reflective of the fighting spirit of Iraqis in general.
We have seen so much death, and have witnessed the destruction of our country before our eyes, but we are still driven by our dignity and hope, he adds from Baghdad, bubbling with excitement.
Iraq launches their Confederations Cup campaign against South Africa, before taking on Spain and New Zealand in their subsequent matches.