A football match between Iraqi and Algerian clubs sparked on Sunday a political crisis between the two countries after fans of the North African team made chants in support of late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
Supporters of Algeria’s USM Alger also made anti-Shiite chants, prompting Iraq’s Nadi Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya Al-Riyadhi to withdraw from the game before its completion.
The two clubs were playing in the quarterfinals of the Algeria-hosted Arab Club Championship. The Iraqi club was trailing by two goals to none.
The Iraqi foreign ministry condemned in a statement on Monday the deplorable behavior of some of the Algerian fans.
It summoned the Algerian ambassador in Baghdad so that he could relay Iraq’s condemnation to the Algerian government.
It reminded Algeria of its responsibility to protect Iraqis in the northern African country and to avoid any provocations, such as glorifying “the ugly face of the fallen Saddam dictatorial regime.”
Deputy chief of the Nadi Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya Al-Riyadhi’s administrative authority Walid al-Zaydi confirmed that the club had withdrawn from the match due to the sectarian chants made by the Algerian fans.
The club will file a formal complaint against USM Alger to the Union of Arab Football Associations, he added in a statement published on the Iraqi’s team’s Facebook page.
The Algerian government has yet to issue a statement on the spat.
USM Alger, meanwhile, denied that its fans had made anti-Shiite chants.
Head of the team’s fan club Mawloud Qasimi told Asharq Al-Awsat that the USM Alger had warmly welcomed their Iraqi rivals.
“We even gave them the home team’s locker rooms, while we changed in the visiting team room,” he added.
“We cheered them when they entered the stadium. All this stemmed from our love of the Iraqi people. The match was going well until the 67th minutes when some of the fans of the late Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, made chants in his support. We thought the Iraqis viewed him as a hero,” he remarked.
“Our fans never intended to offend the Iraqis and they did not utter any statements against Shiites or any other sect,” he stressed.
“We had won the first leg of the quarterfinal and we were leading in the second leg, which means our fans had no reason to insult the Iraqi players,” Qasimi said.
“We hope our Iraqi brothers would accept our apology and, please, do not spark a strife between us,” he stated.
Meanwhile, head of the Iraqi football federation Abdulkhaleq Masoud threatened to resign if the Union of Arab Football Associations “does not make a decision that gives Iraq justice.”