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Iraq tightens security ahead of final match in Asia's top soccer prize

Iraq tightens security ahead of final match in Asia's top soccer prize

Authorities plan intensified security in the capital Sunday to prevent a repeat of bombings that killed dozens of revelers as they celebrated Iraq's progress to the finals of Asia's top soccer tournament last week.
Iraq meets Saudi Arabia in the finals in Jakarta, Indonesia, Sunday.
After Iraq's semifinal win over South Korea on Wednesday, tens of thousands of Iraqis went into the streets nationwide to celebrate, shooting into the air, dancing, singing and waving Iraq's red-white-black flags.
The celebrations were marred when two bombs tore through crowds of revelers in two Baghdad neighborhoods, killing at least 50 people and wounding dozens.
On Saturday, Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Abdul Karim Khalaf said security forces would be on high alert Sunday and that patrols would be stepped up in the capital and elsewhere.
"We also will urge people not to celebrate in groups and not go near security forces," he told The Associated Press. "The terrorists intend to kill as many people as they can in such events. We will also implement tough measures against those who shoot into the air."
Disciplinary action would be taken against members of the security forces who join in celebrations, he said.
"Their duty is to protect those who are celebrating and not celebrate with them," said Khalaf.
In Kirk, 290 kilometers (180 miles) north of Baghdad, the police chief announced a 6 a.m.-9 p.m. vehicle ban Sunday to protect any soccer celebrations from suicide car bombings. Jamal Dhahir also announced a ban on celebratory gunfire, warning that offenders would be jailed and weapons confiscated.
A total of at least seven people were killed in Baghdad by celebratory gunfire after the Iraqi victories Sunday against Vietnam and South Korea on Wednesday.
Iraq has never gained the finals in the Asian Cup, the continent's premier soccer competition. A win on Sunday against three-time champions Saudi Arabia was certain to send the soccer-crazy Iraqis back to the streets to celebrate.
Already, stores selling Iraqi flags, baseball caps with the national colors and T-shirts reading "I am Iraqi" are reporting brisk business.
"We ran out of stock and we had to buy more in order to meet demand," Nazim Hassan, 35, who sells Iraqi flags and T-shirts in the central Baghdad Shorja market.
Suheil Jabar said he sold 4,500 flags and 1,500 T-shirts last week and that he had to hire additional tailors to keep up with demand.
But Wednesday's bombings may temper any celebrations.
"We want to be happy, but not add more to our suffering and pain," said Falah Hassan Abid, a 40-year old Arabic teacher and father of three from Baghdad's eastern neighborhood of New Baghdad.
"I will watch the game at home and celebrate in my own style. I will fire my Kalashnikov in the air from the roof of my house, but I will not go out."
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Associated Press reporter Sameer N. Yacoub contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-10-17 18:04 GMT+08:00