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Religious tension leads to Iraq withdrawing from Gulf Cup soccer competition

Published: Sunday, Oct. 13 2013 12:00 p.m. MDT

From left, Iraq's Ali Adnan, Iraq's Saif Salman and Iraq's Mohammed Jabbar Shwkan leave the pitch after a World Cup Final soccer match for third place between Ghana and Iraq at Ali Sami Yen Arena in Istanbul, Turkey, Saturday, July 13, 2013.

Gero Breloer, Associated Press

Iraq has withdrawn from the Gulf Cup of Nations, putting the international soccer tournament in the middle of an Islāmic religious dispute.

The 2014 Gulf Cup, an international soccer tournament between countries from Arab states bordering the Persian Gulf, was originally going to be hosted in the southern city of Basra, but was moved to Saudi Arabia due to safety and infrastructure concerns, according to Al Jazeera.

Iraq, then, decided to boycott the tournament and has since dropped out of the running.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said in a weekly televised speech that the tournament change was "prejudiced against the rights of the Iraqi people,” Al Jazeera reported.

Writer James Dorsey said “sectarian divisions fuelling conflict across the Middle East have spilled on to the football pitch with Iraq’s decision to boycott the Gulf Cup.”

Dorsey wrote the relationship between Iraq and Saudi Arabia has been severed since “Iraq’s Shiite majority gained power after the 2003 overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s minority Sunni rule."

The article also said Saudi Arabia believes Iraq has “close ties to Iran” and has supported Syria, which has been mired in conflict in recent months.

FIFA, the world governing body of soccer, banned Iraq from hosting home matches due to security reasons. Earlier this year, though, the ban was dropped until recently when conflicts brewed up again in the country, according to Inside World Football.

Other nations included in this tournament are Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which recently had its own dispute with Iran. Dorsey, the writer on Keir Radnedge, wrote that Iran was critical of the UAE renaming its premier soccer league as the Arabian Gulf League, seeing as Iran’s top league is the Persian Gulf League.

In response and in another move in the war on semantics, “The Iranians blocked the transfer of Iranian players to UAE clubs and broke the contracts of those who had already moved,” Dorsey wrote.

“It is hard,” he wrote, “to separate the divisions between Sunni and Shiite Muslims that governments in Bahrain and Syria have used to counter popular uprisings and that Saudi Arabia employs to stem the region's tidal wave of discontent and counter Iran in a struggle for regional hegemony from the soccer spat that has erupted in recent days.”

Email: hscribner@deseretnews.com

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