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HomeEconomyFor the Iraqi Amputees Football Team, Healing Is the Goal MPNRC
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For the Iraqi Amputees Football Team, Healing Is the Goal MPNRC

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As a seven-year-old boy in Baghdad, Muhammad Ali dreamed of becoming a goalkeeper – until a car bomb in central Tahrir Square detonated his left arm.

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The child was another casualty of the sectarian bloodshed that erupted in Iraq in the years following the US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.

“I was deprived of playing football,” he said, recalling the traumatic 2007 incident that ended his time with the Air Force Club’s junior football team in Baghdad.

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Today, at age 22, Ali is a member of a fully disabled football team made up entirely of players who have lost an arm or a leg in Iraq’s many years of war and turmoil.

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“Building this team brought me back to life,” he said. “It helped me get my confidence back.”

The team has around 30 players and has qualified for the Amputee Football World Cup to be held in Turkey at the end of 2022.

Its founder Mohamed Al-Najjar was studying in England when he discovered the Portsmouth amputee team and decided to replicate the experience.

Back in Iraq, he posted an announcement on the social network.

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“Applications started pouring in and we teamed up in August 2021,” recalls the 38-year-old lawyer.

– ‘excessive stress’ –
Najjar’s right leg was amputated in 2016 after being injured “while taking part in a fight against the Islamic State group”.

At the time Najjar, like many of his peers, was fighting with pro-Iranian Hashad al-Shaabi, a paramilitary force that has since been integrated into Iraq’s regular army.

Three times a week, he meets with the group for training in an area of ​​the now brand new al-Chab complex in Baghdad.

Using crutches, one-legged players warm up by running in the national team’s green jersey, then practicing penalty kicks.

The goalkeeper, with his left arm amputated, intercepts the ball with his stomach.

Before he could find the camaraderie of the team, Najjar said “most of the players were suffering from severe depression”.

“Some people even thought of suicide because he had lost a limb and was the first professional player.

“But we have overcome these psychological problems,” he said, adding that he is glad to see that now his players are “posting their pictures with the team on social networks”.

In official competition, matches are played in seven teams on grounds measuring 60 by 40 meters (approximately 200 by 130 ft).

The goals are two meters high and five meters wide – smaller than the 2.4 by 7.3 meters goal used in traditional football.

– ‘Daddy, go train’ –
The Iraqi state provides financial assistance to victims of attacks and fighting against jihadists. Players receive a monthly allowance of between $400 and $700.

Najjar said, in most of the markets, they make their living by working as daily wage laborers.

But a major obstacle for the team is the lack of official recognition, and therefore the lack of funding from Iraqi sporting bodies.

The Poland-based International Amputee Football Federation is not part of the International Paralympic Committee.

Therefore, the Iraqi team receives no state subsidies, said Aqeel Hamid, head of the parliamentary committee on disability sports.

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For equipment and transportation, the team relies on donations from associations, Najjar said. A few hashed bodies also helps sometimes.

“He helped us with the trip to Iran, he paid for the plane tickets,” Najjar said, adding that he expected “widespread support.”

Another team member, Ali Kazim, lost his left leg in the 2006 Baghdad car bomb, which abruptly ended his professional football career with the Air Force Club.

“I couldn’t pursue my ambitions, I stayed at home,” the 38-year-old said.

Today his four children are his biggest supporters.

“They’re the ones who pack my sports bag,” he said. “They tell me: ‘Daddy, go train’. My morale has completely changed.”

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