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One dead, dozens hurt in stampede at Iraq Gulf Cup final

Stampede broke out outside the football stadium in southern Iraq hours before the final match
Iraqi stadium security team members carry an injured football fan into an emergency area at the Basra International Stadium following a stampede ahead of this evening's final match of the Arabian Gulf Cup between Iraq and Oman, in Basra on Jan. 19

Iraqi stadium security team members carry an injured football fan into an emergency area at the Basra International Stadium following a stampede ahead of this evening's final match of the Arabian Gulf Cup between Iraq and Oman, in Basra on Jan. 19. (Photo: AFP)

Published: January 20, 2023 05:44 AM GMT
Updated: January 20, 2023 06:43 AM GMT

One person was killed and dozens injured Thursday during a stampede outside an Iraqi football stadium hours before the Gulf Cup final, officials said.

Long banned from hosting international football matches, war-torn Iraq had been counting on the Gulf Cup to burnish its image but it had already been forced to apologise for organisational lapses.

The final match was still able to take place Thursday night and ended in an Iraqi victory.

Thousands of fans, many without tickets, had earlier gathered outside the 65,000-seat stadium in Iraq's main southern city of Basra since dawn in the hope of watching the Iraq-Oman duel.

"There has been one death and dozens of slight injuries," a medic said.

An interior ministry official gave the same toll. "A large number of fans, many of them without tickets, had gathered since first light to try to get in," the official said.

An AFP photographer inside the stadium said the turnstiles were still closed when the crush occurred. Sirens blared as ambulances arrived to ferry the injured to hospital.

Images posted on social media showed a sea of people outside the stadium.

Fans began arriving again in the afternoon as calm was restored to Basra International Stadium, said interior ministry spokesman Saad Maan.

The gates were closed after fans entered the facility, many of them waving Iraqi flags ahead of the final match.

The home side triumphed 3-2 in extra time to win the tournament.

Throughout the country -- plagued by unemployment, corruption and decaying infrastructure -- the victory was a chance to celebrate, with honking car horns and fireworks.

In the capital Baghdad, hundreds of joyous people gathered at Tahrir Square waving their country's flag.

"We, the Iraqis, really needed to feel this joy," said Mansour Zamil, a supporter in Basra.

'Doing honour to Iraq' 

Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani had earlier chaired a meeting with key ministers and the governor of Basra to discuss "special measures for the Gulf Cup final", his office said.

The Iraqi leader headed to Basra to oversee the situation on the ground, it added.

The army called on fans to heed the instructions of security force personnel on access to the stadium so the championship could be "wrapped up in a civilised fashion that does honour to Iraq".

Iraq has been the scene of deadly stampedes in the past, most recently in Karbala during the Ashura commemorations of 2019, when 31 people died.

Football is by far Iraq's biggest spectator sport and the rare opportunity to see home international games drew thousands of fans.

Thousands more crossed from neighbouring Kuwait to see the games in Basra, little more than 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the border.

The Gulf Cup was contested by Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen as well as Iraq.

This year marked its 25th edition but was the first time Iraq hosted the tournament since 1979, the same year Saddam Hussein took power.

Saddam's 1990 invasion of Kuwait triggered a ban on Iraq by world football's governing body FIFA.

Other bans followed sporadically until early last year because of Iraq's years of war and instability.

But despite Iraq's determination to prove it could safely host an international sports event, the tournament was plagued by logistical difficulties that saw fans with tickets as well as accredited journalists turned away.

Iraq was forced to apologise to its neighbour Kuwait after a scuffle in the VIP section prevented its leader's representative from attending the opening ceremony.

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