Crowds of ecstatic Iraqis wept tears of joy and fired rifles into the air on Sunday after their soccer team's victory in the Asian Cup triggered the biggest street celebrations since the fall of Saddam Hussein.
Police in Baghdad and Kut reported at least seven deaths and more than 50 people wounded by stray bullets as gun-toting revelers took to the streets in a wave of euphoria unprecedented after four years of war.
Unlike earlier in the week, when suicide bombers killed 50 people after the team won the semi-final on Wednesday, there were no reports of major bomb strikes targeting fans.
"The pain is broken!" Sports Minister Jassim Mohammed Jaffar told Reuters after Iraq beat heavily favored Saudi Arabia 1-0 in Jakarta.
"I swear we are heroes. This is a proud moment for all Iraqis," a fan in Baghdad's Karrada district cheered.
Spontaneous celebrations broke out in religiously mixed Baghdad as well as in Basra and the holy Shi'ite city of Najaf in the south and northern Kurdish towns like Arbil and Kirkuk.
Fans cried and danced in the streets, waving their shirts in the air and hugging.
Soldiers with their rifles slung over their shoulders danced with ordinary Iraqis in Baghdad while children, their faces painted in the Iraqi colors, held up pictures of their heroes.
TEAM REPRESENTS SOCIETY
While mainly comprised of Shi'ites, the team was captained by a Sunni Turkman from Kirkuk - goal-scoring hero Younis Mahmoud - and also contained Sunni Arab and Kurdish players in a broad representation of Iraqi society.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who watched the match in a gold-painted chair in his office, quickly issued a statement praising the team's victory. Maliki will give a reception for the players on their return to Iraq, officials said.For all the latest sports news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
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