Scarred by the conflicts in Iraq, amputees set up their football team


They lost an arm or a leg in the war against the jihadists or in one of the attacks that bloodied Iraq. But thanks to an amputee football team, these men heal the wounds of the soul by teasing the ball.

The team brings together around thirty players and has qualified for the Amputee Football World Cup, organized at the end of 2022 in Turkey.

Its founder, Mohamed al-Najjar, discovered during his studies in England a team for amputees in Portsmouth (south) and decided to reproduce the experience. Back in Iraq, he posts an ad on social media.

“Applications for membership started pouring in and we formed the team in August 2021,” recalls the 38-year-old lawyer.

His right leg amputated, he was injured in 2016 “while participating in the fight against the Islamic State group”.

At the time – like several of his teammates – Mr. Najjar was fighting within Hachd al-Chaabi, former pro-Iran paramilitaries now integrated into the regular forces and who play an essential political role.

Three times a week, he meets the group to train on one of the pitches of the brand new Al-Chaab complex in Baghdad.

– “Severe depression” –

Leaning on their crutches, the one-legged players sprint in the national team’s green jersey. After the warm-ups, penalty shootouts are organised. The goalkeeper, amputated from the left arm, intercepts the ball by blocking it against his stomach.

Placed against a bench, a prosthetic leg awaits its owner.

Before the team’s debut, “most of the players suffered from severe depression,” Najjar said. “Some had even thought of suicide, because they had lost a limb and they were professional players,” adds this official from the Ministry of Petroleum.

“But we overcame these psychological problems”, he assures, rejoicing to see his players “posting their photos with the team on social networks”.

In official competition, matches are played between teams of seven on pitches measuring 60 by 40 meters. traditional football).

Mohamed Ali dreamed of becoming a goalkeeper. In 2007, in the midst of a sectarian war, he lost his left arm in the explosion of a car bomb in Tahrir Square in Baghdad. He was seven years old.

At the time, he was playing goalkeeper in the youth team of the Air Force Club, a structure in the capital financed by the military institution.

“I was deprived of playing football,” said the 22-year-old. “Creating this team brought me back to life,” he adds. “She helped me regain my self-confidence.”

– “Dad, go practice!” –

In a country where the American invasion which overthrew dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003 inaugurated a phase of bloody violence, the State pays financial aid to the victims of attacks and battles against jihadists.

The players thus receive monthly allowances which vary between 400 and 700 dollars. Most make ends meet by working as day laborers in the markets, according to Najjar.

For the team, a major obstacle remains: the lack of recognition – and therefore funding – of Iraqi sports bodies.

The International Amputee Football Federation, based in Poland, is not part of the International Paralympic Committee. The Iraqi team cannot therefore receive public subsidies, recognizes Akil Hamid, the head of the disabled parliamentary committee.

For equipment and transport, the team depends on donations from associations, explains Mr. Najjar. There is also occasional aid from certain instances of Hachd al-Chaabi.

“They helped us for a trip to Iran, they took care of the plane tickets”, indicates Mr. Najjar, hoping for “wider support”.

The 2006 car bomb explosion in Baghdad brought an abrupt end to Ali Kazim’s professional football career. He lost his left leg and left the Air Force Club.

“I couldn’t pursue my ambitions, I stayed at home,” admits the 38-year-old.

But today his four children are his biggest supporters. “They are the ones who prepare my sports bag, they tell me + Dad, go train! +”, he says. “My morale has totally changed.”

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