Wednesday, February 20, 2019
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Iraqi football club quits Algeria game after 'sectarian' chants

Air Force club leaves stadium after fans of host team USMA sang slogans in praise of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

An Arab Club Champions Cup football match between Algeria's USMA and Iraq's Air Force clubs was abandoned after the players of the latter walked off the pitch in protest at chants praising Saddam Hussein, the former Iraqi president.

Host team USMA was leading two to nothing when the Iraqi side decided to exit the field at the 72nd minute of the return leg of the Arab Champions League fixture on Sunday. 

The team and the accompanying delegation said the chants by the Algerian fans amounted to sectarian hate speech.

Transition - Head of delegation, Brigadier Walid al-Zaydi, from inside the stadium: Sectarian slogans are what led us to withdraw from the game and are indicative of a lack of culture and barbarism. 

According to the Rudaw news website, Abdulkhaliq Masoud, the head of Iraq's Football Federation, threatened to resign from his post as deputy of the Union of Arab Football Association.

Football fans from both Iraq and Algeria took to social media to comment on the unexpected turn of events.

Translation: [The team withdrew] because Algerian fans turned the game from a political match to provocative political and disgusting sectarian slogans. When will you arrive at the ideal supporter culture and sports spirit? Don't you claim that your culture is French so show us some of it!!! 

Meanwhile, Iraq's foreign ministry summoned Algiers' envoy to Baghdad to demand clarifications on the incident. 

In a statement, Ahmed Mahjoub, the ministry spokesperson, called on Algerian authorities to "avoid anything that would provoke our dear people by praising Saddam's hideous dictator regime".

Hussein was the president of Iraq from 1979 to 2003, when his Sunni-dominated government was deposed by a United States-led invasion. He was executed in 2006.

In December, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Algiers expressed Riyadh's "annoyance" after supporters of Algeria's Ain Melilla football club hoisted a composite image of a face, half of which belonged to King Salman bin Abdulaziz while the other half belonged to Donald Trump, the US president.

The banner was accompanied by a caption, reading: "Two faces of the same coin."

A day later, Ambassador Sami bin Abdullah al-Saleh said Algeria's Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia, had apologised and promised a probe into the incident.

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