Free From Threats of Torture, Iraqi Soccer Players Tour Australia

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:14 PM EDT

Pacific Rim Bureau ( - Iraq's national soccer team, whose members once were tortured by the soccer-mad Uday Hussein for losing games, plans to tour Australia, a country whose forces helped to topple the regime headed by Saddam and his notorious sons.

The team will play a fixture against an Australian invitation side in Perth on Nov. 16. Dubbed the World Peace Game, proceeds for the fixture will go to a fund for re-establishing soccer in war-torn Iraq.

Prime Minister John Howard announced Thursday that his government was supporting the "significant" tour, and would contribute 50,000 Australian dollars ($35,600) toward staging the game.

"It is intended that the match be held as a practical way of encouraging sporting development and goodwill," he said.

Uday Hussein, who was killed with his younger brother, Qusay, by U.S. forces in July, was head of the national soccer federation and the Iraqi Olympic Committee.

One of the team's top players, Hisham Mohammed, has gone on record as saying he and others were regularly jailed after losing games against other countries' teams.

After Iraq lost an Asian Cup quarterfinal game in Beirut to Japan two years ago, three members were locked up in Uday's private jail, where they were beaten for three days, according to published reports at the time, citing defectors' testimonies.

Earlier, it was reported that team members had been forced to kick concrete soccer balls after failing to qualify for the 1994 World Cup finals.

The Iraqi side is coached by a German, Bernd Stange, who has hopes that Iraq - a strong soccer nation before the 1991 Gulf War - may qualify for the soccer World Cup, in Germany in 2006.

Stange took over the Iraqi team three months before Saddam Hussein was toppled by U.S.-led forces, backed by Britain and Australia.

He has defended the decision to do so while the regime was in power, saying he was coach to the Iraqi players, not to Saddam or his elder son, and that he never met either of them.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow