Hundreds of Iraqis Gather to View World Cup

Hundreds of Iraqi soccer fans enjoyed a peaceful show as they watched the World Cup quarterfinals on an outdoor screen in northern Iraq, but not everybody liked what they saw.

About 1,000 people attended the viewing of the matches late Saturday in a public park in Sulaimaniyah, 260 kilometers (160 miles) northeast of Baghdad, as a way to get around electricity shortages and the high cost of satellite TV subscriptions.

"I feel very happy to be here because I have no electricity at home but the public park does," said 32-year-old Serwan Aziz. "Because of the large screen I feel as if I were at German stadium."

Soccer is hugely popular in this war-torn country and many Iraqis pooled their resources to get around the prohibitive cost of access to the Arab Radio and Television, which owns the rights to broadcast the world's largest sporting event. Prices on the black market topped $150.

Fears of car bombs and other violence prohibited such large outdoor gatherings to watch the games in most of the country, but the fans took advantage of being in relatively peaceful Sulaimaniyah, which is in a Kurdish region. The municipality installed two large screens in two parks.

Las Khalid said he was furious when English player Wayne Rooney was sent off in the 62nd minute after stomping on Ricardo Carvalho's groin following a rough challenge and then pushing Ronaldo just a few steps in front of the referee. Rooney's teammates claimed he had been fouled.

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It was only the 11th red card ever for England and left Rooney's teammates to play the last hour one man short.

"The referee's decision to show the red card to the English attacker Rooney was wrong," he said.

Iraqis elsewhere were having a less pleasant time trying to watch the tournament.

Ruqiyah Hussein, 26, a government employee in Baghdad who loves English soccer star David Beckham, complained about the lack of power and the high price of fuel for generators widely used in the capital to make up for severe electricity shortages.

"We often miss the games either because of lack of gasoline for our generator or when it gets late and we have to turn off the generator to eliminate the noise and let people sleep," she said. "But it is no problem. As soon as I get on the bus next morning, I hear everybody talking about the games and I know the results."

Others were bitter about the security situation.

"It makes me so sad to see the World Cup on TV where all spectators are dancing and enjoying themselves and traveling from one area to another while we are here killing each other," said Saleh Ali, a 35-year-old dentist.