IRAQ 11-Britain 0.
A football field in Chelsea last week was host to one of the most surreal episodes to come out of the war against Iraq. As part of the Iraqi national team's tour of Britain they took on-and smashed-the official "parliamentary football team". This team of parliamentary researchers and MPs' assistants received a sharp lesson in "shock and awe".
It looked like something from the Indian Raj. The British team was composed of corpulent middle-aged men, all of them white, except for their faces, which ranged from crimson to maroon. They heaved themselves pathetically round the pitch, occasionally touching the ball.
The British coach was overheard shouting, "Right, I have a plan now!" as he tried to rally his players at half time. But after two minutes the Iraqis had scored yet another goal. Gathered alongside the pitch were an assortment of businessmen-Iraqi and British-and officials from the Department of Trade and Industry and the Foreign Office.
Nancy Dell'Olio, partner of England manager Sven Goran Eriksson, was mobbed by journalists as she arrived in a white suit and silly hat to complete the human zoo. Labour MP Ann Clwyd, one of the most nauseating apologists for the war, watched from the sidelines. She refused to answer journalists' questions about Iraq, where at least 40 civilians had been murdered at a wedding earlier the same morning.
Ann Clwyd could learn something about torture under Saddam Hussein from the Iraqi goalkeeper Saad Naser. He told Socialist Worker, "The stories about the old regime's treatment of the football team are true. When the team lost they got punished." But Saad was even angrier about the new US-run regime. He says, "The majority of people want the troops to get out of Iraq. We dream of democratic elections."
The British organisers of the football match were quick to promote it as a sign of goodwill between Britain and the Iraqi people. But Nizar, the Iraqi team's assistant coach, had a very different interpretation.
He told Socialist Worker, "During this football match there is bombing going on in Iraq. We do not know what is happening to our families. Today we have sent a message that we want peace and that we want all of the troops out of Iraq. We want to rule ourselves."
The Iraqi team contains players from Shia, Sunni and Kurdish backgrounds, and from all of the different regions of Iraq. They have already fought one political battle. The team rejected the new strips they were given when the US tried to impose a new flag, mysteriously similar to the Israeli flag, on Iraq.
Nizar says, "We have problems getting to training sessions because the US troops stop us at roadblocks. We had to finish the football season after four months because we were worried about rockets hitting the stadiums and killing innocent people."