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Celebratory gunfire over Iraq soccer win

Saturday, June 14, 2008

BAGHDAD —  Iraqis danced in the streets or in the backs of pickups and fired guns in the air to welcome their national soccer team's victory Saturday in a World Cup qualifying game.

But celebrations were cut short elsewhere when a female suicide bomber detonated an explosives belt in front of a popular cafe full of fans in a town northeast of Baghdad, wounding 34 people.

The attack in Qara Tappah wounded seven policemen and 27 civilians, according to police Col. Azad Issa. The town's top administrator Serwan Shukir said more casualties were prevented because a policeman spotted the detonator and screamed at the crowd to disperse.

In Baghdad, dozens of people _ most young men and children _ waved Iraqi flags and chanted "Long live Iraq" and "Bring on the cup, bring it on," a traditional soccer song.

The sound of car horns mingled with the gunfire and people clapped as they leaned out of their windows.

Iraq beat China 2-1 with a first-half goal by Emad Ridha and the winner by Nashat Akram midway through the second half.

The celebrations were reminiscent on a smaller scale of the joy brought on by Iraq's run to victory in the prestigious 2007 Asian Cup.

Mohammed Haider, a 36-year-old Oil Ministry employee, said the victory provided a welcome respite from fears of violence and concerns about power shortages and other troubles that persist despite recent security gains.

"Soccer is the only thing that unites the Iraqi people. We needed this soccer victory to remind us that we are still one nation," he said.

Hospital officials said at least 17 people were wounded in celebratory gunfire in Baghdad after many fans ignored official warnings against it.

But the shooting was muted in Baghdad's Shiite militia stronghold of Sadr City, compared to past soccer victories, due to an ongoing military operation that has led to an increased presence of Iraqi security forces.

"Despite our misery in Sadr City, we came out in the streets to celebrate the victory," said Ibrahim Karim, a 44-year-old engineer. "We are happy now because we have forgotten for a while our sad situation."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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