Football: Iraq ready for pitch battles

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The Independent Online
IN BAGHDAD, it is only half-time in the Mother of all Battles. Iraq's football team have stormed through their first-round group in the Asian qualifying tournament for next year's World Cup finals to reach a second-round mini-league which threatens to be a diplomats' nightmare, writes Rupert Metcalf.

Two teams will qualify from the second round for the finals in the United States, and Iraq's opponents are Japan, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, South Korea - and probably Iran. The rallying cry in Iraq's army newspaper, Al-Qadissiya, read: 'Your mission is part of the confrontation between Iraq and the 'Forces of Evil' as embodied by the United States and their allies.'

Saudi Arabia, one of Iraq's foes in the Gulf War, are also in the firing line, as Iraqi television made clear: 'Iraqis will celebrate their certain victory over Saudi Arabia, their implacable enemies who will have to be crushed in front of millions of television viewers around the world.'