At Least One Dead in Iraq After Stampede Outside Soccer Stadium

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A stampede outside a soccer stadium in southern Iraq killed at least one person on Thursday, according to officials, after witnesses said that ticket collectors had turned back fans who had been sold fake tickets to a prestigious regional tournament.

Thousands of fans had lined up for hours in the morning outside the closed gates of the Basra International Stadium to attend the final match of the tournament, the Arabian Gulf Cup, that pitted Iraq against Oman.

Some were holding tickets that turned out to be fake and others were hoping to get tickets at the site, according to a witness, Mohammed, who asked to be identified by his first name only to discuss ticket fraud. When ticket takers opened the gates, “they lost control and the stampede began,” Mohammed said.

Several hours after the crush, the stadium reopened its gates and prepared for the match to go ahead as scheduled. Twitter messages from an Iraqi soccer website showed the 65,000-seat stadium filled to capacity five hours before the planned 7 p.m. kickoff.

The media director for the Basra governorate, Safaa al-Firajii, said that one man had died in the stampede and that at least 60 people had been injured. Iraq’s state news agency confirmed the initial death toll.

This year was the first time since 1979 that international soccer officials had deemed Iraq safe or stable enough to host the Gulf Cup — something that has been a dream for Iraqis across the soccer-mad country. Local officials set up giant screens in cities around the country to broadcast the games, and tens of thousands bought tickets and traveled to Basra to attend the live matches.

The tournament was not just a major sporting event but a point of pride for Iraq’s beleaguered new government, which has to grapple with daunting corruption scandals, economic problems and security concerns.

This year’s edition of the biennial Arabian Gulf Cup has been plagued by the sale of fake tickets from the start. Saud Khaldoun, a teacher from the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, said that he and his sons traveled more than 500 miles to Basra for the opening match two weeks ago after buying three tickets from a Kirkuk tourism company.

“When I reached the gate, they told me the tickets were fake,” he said. The family returned to Kirkuk the same day.

Iraq, once a soccer power in the Gulf, has struggled during the past two decades of conflict and war. But both the Iraqi and Omani teams have been undefeated in this year’s tournament, with Iraq scoring a major victory against a much-better-funded Qatar, and Oman beating Bahrain to reach the final.

The Gulf Cup has also been plagued by regional disputes in recent years.

The Iraqi prime minister, Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, had portrayed this year’s tournament as a way to strengthen ties between Iraq and other Gulf countries.

Relations between Shiite-dominated Iraq and the other Gulf countries, which are mostly Sunni, had been essentially frozen for almost a decade after the U.S. invasion toppled the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Andrew Das in London, Nermeen al-Mufti and Jaafar al-Waely in Baghdad contributed reporting.


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