Tracing the history of Iraqi football through the tormented careers of four dissident players
Tariq Mohammed Salih
In 1958, the British-educated King Faisal II was machine-gunned in the back with various members of his family in the courtyard of the Riyab Palace in Baghdad and the Hashemite Kingdom of Iraq came to an end. Iraq became a republic and a new phase of the country’s turbulent history began.
For football, the revolution meant a complete overhaul, with military officials aligned to the new Ba’athist regime assigned key roles in sport. The new Iraq Football Association president was Hadi Abbas, an ex-detainee at the notorious Nugrat Al-Salman political prison in the south of the country. The 43-year-old lawyer and former footballer had been a member of the Iraqi Communist Party and an opponent of the monarchy, leading to his detention. Abbas had met the prince regent Abdelilah bin Ali at a game in 1945 and recalled that he had deliberately delayed reaching out to shake the prince’s hand as a protest against the monarchy.
From player to prisoner, and then FA president, Hadi Abbas became a powerful figure in football and on a whim appointed himself national coach one game into Iraq’s 1960 Olympic qualifying campaign. In early 1959, the Iraq FA and the Army Games Committee had begun to organise matches against visiting teams from socialist countries, mainly in Eastern Europe. The new government was led by one of the Free Officers, Brigadier Abdul-Karim Qasim (or Al-Zaem), who had torn up the 1955 Baghdad Pact and, with it, Iraq’s allegiance to the West. The first teams to travel to the new Republic of Iraq were Hungary’s Egyesült Vasas Izzó, Spartak Trnava of Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria’s army team CDNA Sofia, Neftyanik Baku of the USSR and FLN Équipe, the famous Algerian team made up of professionals who had once played in France before choosing to represent the Front de Libération Nationale (National Liberation Front) that had declared war on French colonists in 1954.
Inspired by the Algerian FLN Équipe’s global tour, the Iraq FA had sent out two teams of civilian and military players to Eastern Europe and the Far East to “offer their hands of friendship to socialist and liberated countries”, as the new prime minister Abdul-Karim Qasim put it. The players returned to Baghdad from their two-month adventure and from their ranks the Iraq FA selected its first Olympic team.
One of those selected was a 22-year-old trainee pilot called Tariq Mohammed Salih, a right-winger who happened to be the nephew of the Iraqi leader. There were predictable grumbles about nepotism from fans and journalists, but Tariq was one of the best players in the country and scored the winner that saw his side Amana Al-Asama (“Capital Secretariat”) win the central Iraq FA Championship for the first time in 1958-59. That same year, he had scored one of the quickest goals ever seen at the Kashafa Stadium in Baghdad after only 50 seconds against Spartak Tranva while representing a Baghdad Select XI.
When, late in 1959, Iraq played their first ever Olympic qualifier, against neighbouring Lebanon in front of a sparse crowd of 8,000 at the Camille Chamoun Sports City Stadium in Beirut, Tariq lined up alongside Iraq’s inspirational captain Jamil Abbas ‘Jamoli’ and the popular inside forward Ammo Baba. Iraq won 3-0. In the return game in Baghdad, Tariq was instrumental in an 8-0 win in which he scored his one and only international goal.
Tariq had made his name playing for Amana Al-Asama, who had been languishing in the second division until the 1958 Revolution. The team were headed by the Mayor of Baghdad, Brigadier Abdul-Majeed Hassan, a close friend of his uncle. Backed by powerful political figures Amana were swiftly promoted to the top division with Tariq a leading player.
He had been born in Baghdad in 1938 and lived with his family on Al-Kifah Street in the Mahdia district, the eldest son of a chief clerk at the Al-Kadhimiya Judicial Court. Tariq had excelled at a variety of sports but chose to pursue a career as an amateur footballer and follow in the footsteps of his uncle in the Iraqi military as an air-force pilot. In 1960 he joined the famous Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya (Air Force) football team to play with some of the best players in the country such as Ammo Baba, Youra Eshaya and Fakhri Mohammed Salman. However, because of his studies abroad at the British Royal Air Force College in Cranwell, Lincolnshire, Tariq was absent for the Air Force football team and the Iraqi representative teams, the national side and the army team. But in 1961 he returned to Baghdad, was promoted to the rank of lieutenant and became a regular on the right wing both Quwa Al-Jawiya and the Iraq Army team that was so revered and championed by his uncle’s regime.
In February 1963, Tariq played for the Iraq Army side against the Romanian team Petrolul Ploiești, coming off in the second half. It would be his last match for them. On the morning of 8 February 1963, he was awoken by the news on the radio that planes were bombing the Ministry of Defence building and that a military coup led by pro-Nasserists within the Ba’ath Party was underway against his uncle’s government. Tariq got up and dressed in his military uniform, desperately trying to get his army unit to join the fight.
At the beginning of the rebellion, Tariq went to the Al-Rasheed Camp with other pilots and attempted to get to the airport so they could fly their planes and attack the Habbaniya Airbase. After the runway had been attacked, though, that became impossible. When it became clear that the regime was about to fall, Abdul-Karim Qasim told his loyalists, “I am a wanted man, please leave and save yourselves.” Tariq left the Ministry of Defence and with a group of other Qasim supporters made his way towards the outskirts of Baghdad. While they were waiting at a fuel depot, Tariq was recognised by one of the National Guards. He informed his commanding officer and the group was arrested and taken to the Olympic Club in Antar Square in the Adhammiya district of the Iraqi capital. The sports club had been turned into a prison, little more than a human abattoir. There, the 25-year-old Tariq was lined up against a wall and shot.
The family home was ransacked and turned into the headquarters of the Republican Guard. A Ba’ath leader and the assistant to leader of the National Guard even stole Tariq’s car and drove it through the streets of Baghdad. With daily killings on the streets, other members of the family had to go into hiding in Baghdad, staying at a safe house in Al-Thawra where they spent two days before moving to East Al-Karrada. The family had first fled to the house of the head of the Fifth Armoured Division, whose wife was the sister of the Iraqi leader.
Tariq’s 18-year-old brother Muayad had been taken from the family home by the Republican Guard to the Al-Nahda Club in East Karrada which had been turned into a militia headquarters. He was held there until being moved to a secret police detention building close to the People’s Court where he was kept in chains. Imprisoned with him were the future Iraq captain Abid Kadhim and the bodybuilder Ali Al-Gayar. Two days later Muayad was transferred north to Mosul by train, shackled to the rest of the prisoners. They were taken to the Jamia Al-Kabir, the Grand Mosque, and kept in a large cellar to apply psychological pressure on them. Muayad said people wanted to die because of the terrible conditions and torture as others were taken away and executed. He was eventually released after three months.
Muayad Mohammed Salih was selected to play for Iraq in the late 60s but only played one official game. One of his national coaches at the time told him when he picked him to play in the Baghdad XI’s tour of the Soviet Union in 1967, “I hate you because I hated your uncle, and I only invited you to the national side because of public pressure.”
Muayad had been born in 1944, and began playing football seriously not in Iraq but in West Germany. In 1957, he had travelled with a group of young Iraqi students to the Goethe-Institut in Mönchengladbach to learn German and while he was there he played for the junior side of Borussia Mönchengladbach. He returned to Iraq after the July Revolution of 1958 that installed his uncle as president and joined the Al-Mahdawi Club, formed by Iraq’s ruling elite. In 1961, at the age of 16, after being spotted by the coach Nasser ‘Chico’ he moved to the top-division side Amana Al-Asama, another club with strong links to the government. There, Muayad played alongside his brother Tariq, who joined on loan from Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya for a game against the Syrian Army in Damascus in which Muayad scored.
Muayad was jailed for three months after the cup of 1963. On his release, he gave up football for a couple of years and was continually hounded by the government, being imprisoned again in 1964 and 1965. He subsequently resumed his playing career, earning a reputation as a talented goalscorer in the domestic league.
During a friendly match in 1967 between the Police teams of Iraq and Egypt played at the Al-Shaab Stadium, he scored twice; the second a rocket effort from outside the box. Another powerful long-range effort forced Egypt’s goalkeeper from the field after he dislocated his shoulder in making a save. As the fans celebrated the victory, they chanted “two-thirds of an uncle’s child,” an Arab saying reflecting how often a boy takes after his maternal uncle – in this case, the former Iraqi leader. Muayad had heard the chant from the crowd before, the first time when he scored direct from a free-kick for Al-Maslaha in 1967 in a league game against Aliyat Al-Shurta on the final day of the season.
Muayad became renowned for such strikes, curling the ball over the wall and into the net past the keeper, with the crowd bearing the goalscorer on their shoulders after the game. This time, after his two goals against the Egyptian Police side, the fans carried the match winner and chanted in delight. When he got home after the game, a car arrived and took him for questioning at the General Security Directorate. A lieutenant-colonel asked him about the group he had put together at the Al-Shaab Stadium. He replied that the chant was spontaneous, that he had not orchestrated it and people went to the stadium because they wanted to watch the game.
“What is this, ‘two-thirds of an uncle’s child’?” the officer asked.
“If they did say that,” Muayad replied, “I would be honoured. And besides, what did my uncle ever do to you?”
The lieutenant-colonel was a kind-hearted man and tears came to his eyes. He would release Muayad, he said, but he had to ask the crowd not to chant such things again. Muayad pointed out he had not called for the chants in the first place and that he couldn’t be expected to be responsible for thousands of people.
After playing for Sikak and Al-Maslaha,in late 1967 Muayad was invited by three high-class players, Husham Atta Ajaj, Qasim ‘Zuwiya’ and Mousa Abdullah, to join the top side Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya, which was based on the air force. He met with the Air Force Staff Major General Jassam Mohammed Al-Shaher; as a junior high school graduate Muayad expected to be given the rank of an officer after enrolling in the army. The course, though, had not started, so an agreement was reached that Muayad would be enrolled first as a deputy officer and promoted once the course began.
That was on 26 June 1968. Three weeks later, the 1968 Revolution erupted, a bloodless coup that brought the Arab Socialist arm of the Ba’ath party to power. Muayad’s application had been processed but the new government withdrew his file and so he remained a reserve officer until he retired. He was subsequently reported to the authorities after refusing to play in a match to commemorate the February Revolution of 1963.
Even after he retired, he continued to be harassed by the Ba’athist regime. Muayad became a coach and worked alongside the East German Gerhard Reichelt as Iraq won the World Military Championship in Damascus in 1977 but the Iraqi leader Ahmed Hassan Al-Bakr insisted he should not be allowed to take part in the victory parade through Baghdad.
There is no consensus on how the modern game of football first reached Iraq, but one theory has it that links between Mesopotamia and the Ottoman Empire led to the game spreading through the region during the period of the Devlet-i Âliye-i Osmâniyye, or Sublime Ottoman State, in the late 19th century. The organised sport dates back a little more than a century, developing in the major cities of Basra, Mosul and Baghdad. In Basra, local teams played matches with foreigners from trading and military ships docked at the port, and similar games against foreign opposition were played in Mosul, Iraq’s gateway to Europe. Iraqi students, meanwhile, travelled through the Ottoman empire to study in Istanbul, returning with balls to found local clubs and spread the game. Many of these students were Iraqi army officers performing their military service in the Ottoman armed forces.
Football received a further boost on the dusty fields of British military barracks after the First World War. Britain had captured Baghdad in 1917 and ruled Iraq as a mandate until 1932, with King Faisal I being proclaimed king following a plebiscite in 1921. The Royal Air Force established several bases across Iraq during British rule, the most notable and largest being RAF Hinaidi (later Al-Rasheed Camp) south of Baghdad. Football became a significant part of the daily life of British soldiers and local army employees. It was seen and then copied by local youths, who began to challenge the British to matches.
The first coup against the Hashemite monarchy came in 1936 and there followed a period of intense instability, culminating in a short-lived pro-Nazi takeover in 1941. It was soon toppled by an Allied invasion that restored the Hashemite monarchy.
The Iraq Football Association was founded in 1948 following a suggestion made by an Iraqi student who had been studying at Loughborough during the London Olympic Games. A meeting was held in Baghdad between representatives of the 14 founder teams, including the British Casuals. For a year the FA was led by the Royal Guard commander Obaid Abdullah Al-Mudhayifi and when he stood down because of work commitments, a new association was formed on 25 October 1949. Two days later, at the first meeting of the new FA, the main topic was the objective laid down by the Iraqi Olympic Committee to approach Fifa about affiliating to the global governing body. After months of correspondence, Iraq was admitted into Fifa along with Nicaragua and Saarland at the Congress held in Petropolis, Brazil on 22 June 1950.
In the first decade after Fifa recognition, nobody could talk about Iraqi football without mentioning Hama Peshka. “He was one of the stars of the world of football, well-known in his field,” the respected journalist Shaker Ismail Ahmed wrote in his 1952 book Daleel Abtal. “Nothing was difficult for him.” He was the Nashat Akram of his day, but today his name and what he achieved in his career has been largely forgotten.
Hama Peshka had come to Baghdad to play for Haris Al-Maliki (the Royal Guards), a team formed from the best players in the country, decades before Saddam Hussain’s notorious eldest son Uday had the idea of establishing the Al-Rasheed Club. Hama was a star of the team, a gifted and robust inside-left who had been scouted playing in the RAF Football League on the British army base at RAF Habbaniya.
Mohammed Abdullah (Hama is the Kurdish variation of the name Mohammed) was born in Baghdad, although his father came from Sulimaniya. He made his name in Habbaniya playing for a variety of civilian teams in the league set up by the RAF on the base. He earned the nickname ‘Peshka’ – meaning small boy in Sorani Kurdish - for his short stature but, like another prominent player from Habbaniya, the diminutive Youra Eshaya – who went on to play for Bristol Rovers in the mid-50s – Hama was well-built and had great upper body strength. Evan at 5’5”, he was a threat in the air against tall defenders. According to his family, such was his ability that Hama was offered both British and Iranian citizenship to play for teams in those countries, the latter offer coming from the Shah himself.
The sons of a former British Army officer, an Eastern Orthodox priest and an Assyrian Levy soldier were the three men who shaped the first Iraq national side for its tour of Turkey in 1951. Before confirming its selections, the Iraq FA had been playing games under the name Montakhab Baghdad (Baghdad Select), largely drawing players from the capital’s top military teams – Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya (Air Force), Iraq’s oldest club, and the reigning Baghdad league champions Haris Al-Maliki (Royal Guards) – as well as the civilian side Royal Sports Club from Adhammiya. However, as the fixtures in Turkey approached, three of the most talented young footballers in the country were incorporated into the team.
The first to be selected were the Basra-based duo Saeed Easho and Percy Lynsdale of the Basra Port Club. The third, Aram Karam, came from the RAF base in Habbaniya. With the inclusion of the trio, Montakhab Baghdad became Montakhab Al-Iraqi, the Iraq national side.
The centre-half Saeed Easho was the son of a priest who had settled in Basra in the early 20th century. The young Saeed excelled at football at his primary school in the district of Al-Ashar and at Al-Basra Secondary and was chosen to play for the Basra Select side while at school, taking on British Army sides based in the city. He had left the country to study at Loughborough College in Leicestershire where trainee teachers from Sheffield arranged a trial at Sheffield United. He impressed in a match for their Reserves and was offered a contract worth far more than he could ever have earned in Iraq. Easho, though, worried about the gamble of leaving home for the insecure life of a footballer, rejected the offer and continued his studies. He returned to work as a clerk for the Basra Petroleum Company (BPC) and the Basra Port Club.
His teammate, Percy Lynsdale, also a clerk, was a tricky outside left who had an instinctive eye for goal. They played together at both Basra-based teams in the district of Margil, where his family had settled. Lynsdale’s father had come to Iraq after World War I as an officer in the British Army and settled there after finding work in Iraq’s developing railway industry. He married a local woman and the family lived in Baghdad until Percy graduated from college and left the capital to settle in Basra.
The third player was the sharp-shooting inside-forward Aram Karam, a man with a reputation for scoring goals from near impossible angles. The inhabitants of RAF Habbaniya once saw him score with a thunderous drive from as far out as the centre circle. His goalscoring exploits became legendary and after a friendly game organised by the FA in which he scored two goals, selectors demanded his inclusion in the new national side. At first, though, Iraqi football officials believed Aram, whose parents had been born in Iran, was an Iranian subject and so he was not initially selected. It was only after a group with connections to the FA travelled to Habbaniya, where Aram lived, and confirmed with the player that he held Iraqi citizenship that he received a call-up from the FA.
The trio were expected to line up together against Aram’s CC Team at the Kashafa Stadium but selectors decided that Aram should play for his usual side. The CC Team were a select side made up of mainly Assyrian players living on the Civil Cantonment on the British RAF base in Habbaniya. The club had earned a reputation as one of the best sides in Iraq after victories over the Baghdad giants Al-Shurta, Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya and Haris Al-Maliki and were expected to provide stiff competition for Iraq. The National team, though, won 5-0.
The newly selected trio played together for the first time against the Basra Select side in Basra in a 1-1 draw. Two of Basra’s players, Shaker Ismail and Karim Allawi, caught the eye of the coach Dhia Habib that day and were added to the squad bound for Turkey.
Hama Peshka played in the win over the CC Team, and also missed Iraq’s first ever penalty. Nonetheless, he was one of 16 players who travelled to Izmir to take on the Turkey B team on 6 May 1951. He played at right-half in a 7-0 defeat.
Hama had already played for the Royal Guards against Pakistan in 1950 and was a regular for the Iraq Army and the Baghdad Select XI in the 50s. He played at inside-left for the Royal Guards and was a feature of their team for eight seasons, winning cups and championships until his retirement in 1955. He went onto become a referee in the Iraqi League and coached several teams from the Al-Faily Club, representing the Kurdish Faily community in Baghdad, to the Sulimaniya Sports Club of which he had been one of the founders.
But there is also an untold story, that of Hama Peshka’s political persecution. For several months in the mid-fifties, Hama lived in exile in the emirate of Kuwait after a plot had been concocted within the army to have him executed on false charges. He only returned to Baghdad after the charges were dropped.
In 1963, after the February revolution, he was imprisoned for a year at the Nugrat Al-Salman political prison.
But what did for him was an assassination attempt on Mullah Mustafa Barzani, the leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party in 1971. There is a story that Hama, as a deputy officer in the Iraqi Army, was despatched as a guide and translator with an Iraqi government delegation to the Kurdish leader’s headquarters in Haj Omran near the Iraqi-Iranian border. The party of religious clerics had unknowingly been carrying a recording device which was attached to a bomb and, although Mullah Barzani survived the attempt on his life, the clerics and everybody else in the delegation were killed. Hama was not in fact with the delegation or anywhere near the incident but was indirectly caught up between the battle between the two factions.
As a Kurd, Hama was accused by Iraq’s Ba’athist government of working with Barzani. One day in 1972, Hama, by then 51 and working as a driver for the Czechoslovakian automobile manufacturer Škoda, was picked up by Saddam Hussein’s security officers and never seen again. Charged with espionage, he was executed and his body dissolved in a vat of acid. He left a widow and four children, the youngest of whom was only nine months old.
In Saddam’s Iraq it was common for people to disappear. From the day Hama disappeared his family knew nothing of his whereabouts or how he had been killed. However, people who were imprisoned with him at the old Al-Riyab Palace (subsequently renamed Qasr Al-Nahaya (Palace of the End), revealed to the family that Hama had refused to answer any questions or admit to any wrongdoing during his interrogation. His hands had been tied behind his back and he been lowered into an acid bath. According to the witnesses, Saddam Hussein, then vice-president of Iraq and deputy head of the Revolution Command Council, who personally supervised the detention centre, had watched the execution.
The regime wanted the name of Hama Peshka and his past achievements wiped from memory and, a day after his disappearance, a three-man delegation from the Iraqi Football Association which included the former Iraqi captain Ammo Baba, an ex-teammate of the player, arrived at Hama Peshka’s family home to take away cups, medals and souvenirs he had won throughout his football career. Certain members of the Iraqi football community and his fellow peers knew about his politically motivated disappearance but for the fear of reprisals they never mentioned his name or revealed that he had been taken by Ba’athist security officers.
When Hama’s sons tried to follow their father into football, they were ostracised or prevented from joining clubs when coaches found out who their father was. Hama Peshka’s name and what he achieved in his career disappeared under the rubble of the destructive politics that has devastated Iraq.
In the summer of 1972, the president of the Iraqi Olympic Committee Fahad Jawad Al-Meera sent a letter to the Hungarian Football Association requesting a coach who could supervise the Iraq team as they embarked upon their first ever World Cup qualification campaign, for the 1974 World Cup. The Hungarians returned with the name of the former full-back Gyula Teleki and when the league season started he flew to Baghdad to begin scouting players.
The 45-year-old Teleki had played for the Budapest club Vasas, including in their European Cup semi-final against Real Madrid in 1958, and had made three appearances for the great Hungary side of the fifties. As well as coaching jobs in Hungary, he’d worked with Al-Merrikh in Sudan and the Polish side Wisła Kraków.
Iraq had been grouped with Australia, New Zealand and Indonesia, all their matches to be played in Sydney and Melbourne, with the winners qualifying for a play-off with the winners of the other regional group, and the winners of that playing off against the winners of the east Asian section for a place in West Germany. To help qualification, the Iraqi league season was shortened with each of the eight teams playing each other only once.
One of the players Teleki called up was Bashar Rasheed. The forward had topped the goalscoring charts in 1972-73 season with five goals, but had never been selected for the national team before because of his political allegiances. Teleki either didn’t known or didn’t care about that: he just saw an excellent player. He found out soon enough as the Iraq FA urged him to leave Bashar out citing “security reasons” and tried to stop the player leaving for Australia, but Teleki ignored them.
Bashar Rasheed had been born in 1949 in the district of Ali Al-Gharbi, in Amarah Province in southern Iraq. His family then settled in the city of Diwaniya. After the death of his father, Bashar and his three sisters moved to the Iraqi capital. His mother bore the brunt of bringing up Bashar and his siblings as the family lived in cramped and over-crowded low-rent housing in the working-class districts of Al-Kifah and Abu Sufyan. When Bashar started to go to evening school, the family settled in Sector 15 in Al-Thawra City, which at the time was considered a stronghold of the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP). Bashar and many of his friends and teammates later became members.
In the 1960s, the youth wing of the ICP began to improve basic facilities in the southern provinces and Al-Thawra, where they garnered vast support. The City of Al-Thawra became a hotbed of political activity and many sportsmen held leftist sympathies. Players from Madinat Al-Thawra (City of Revolution) enjoyed significant success at both domestic and international level. The city had been built on the orders of the prime minister Abdul-Karim Qasim after the 1958 Revolution to provide subsidised housing for Baghdad’s urban poor, who were mainly Shias from the countryside in southern Iraq who had moved to the capital.
Bashar’s family was one of the thousands from rural villages in the Iraqi south who had settled in Al-Thawra (renamed Saddam City in 1982 but now known as Al-Sadr City). Like the favelas in Brazil, and the villas miserias in Argentina, the slums of Al-Madina – or the City, as it is known – proved a perfect breeding ground for football talent. Youngsters from the City would spend hours on the dusty fields, kicking anything that resembled a ball as they perfected their skills and looked for a way out the slums. One of the most famous players from Al-Thawra was Falah Hassan, a hero to the masses and a man whose name and face were censored in the media by the regime after he left in 1991.
The young Bashar started his playing career like most teenagers in the city, playing for a shaabiya (a local team) named after the two greatest clubs in the Arab world, Al-Zamalek Al-Ahly, before moving on to Al-Assafa Al-Ahly and Al-Hilal of Sector 12 where he played with Falah Hassan, becoming a close friend. In 2005, after the fall of Saddam’s regime, Falah was interviewed by the sports presenter Hussam Hassan for Al-Hurra Iraq TV and when Bashar Rasheed’s name was mentioned, the legendary player began to cry.
When Bashar was at elementary school his sporting talents caught the attentions of his teachers, and he played for the Iraqi Schoolboys team in 1966. Bashar had trials with Sikak Al-Hadeed (Steel Railway) along with other players from the City, Jalal Abdul-Rahman, Kadhim Liabi and Resan Benyan, the father of current Iraqi international Bashar Resan (who is named after him). He made his name in the top division with Sikak Al-Hadeed, whom he joined in 1966, before moving to Quwa Al-Siyar (Armoured Cars) in 1968. It was after joining Aliyat Al-Shurta (Police Machinery) in 1970, that Bashar really excelled and was eventually called into the national side. Two-footed, he devastated defenders with his quick thinking and speed on and off the ball.
Bashar helped Aliyat Al-Shurta to the league title in 1972 and was their top-scorer for the following two seasons. He was a natural call-up for Teleki for the qualifiers. Iraq lost their first game 3-1 against Australia, but that was their only defeat. Three wins and two draws for their remaining matches was not sufficient, though, and they ended the group a point behind the hosts. On his return to Iraq, Bashar was banned by the FA, who accused him of homosexuality in an attempt not only to prevent him ever playing for the national side again but to destroy his reputation in conservative Iraqi society. The sports section of the police formed a committee to investigate but concluded that the allegations had been fabricated. The Iraq FA, though, refused to lift the ban they had imposed on Bashar and he never played for his country again.
Bashar did, though, continue to represent the Iraqi Army, whose team was also managed by Gyula Teleki. He played at the 1973 World Military Championship in Congo-Brazzaville, scoring three goals as Iraq finished runners-up behind Italy. In the July Military Tournament that same year Bashar scored a hat-trick in a 5-2 win over the Bulgarian club Sliven and got another goal against the Soviet club SKA Odessa.
Bashar continued to play for Aliyat Al-Shurta and later the newly founded Al-Shurta but on 15 September 1975, six months after the birth of his only son, he was arrested in the dressing room by military intelligence following a match against Al-Jamaea and imprisoned. He had been recorded making critical remarks about the Ba’athist government.
Bashar was sentenced to death in December 1976 and at noon on 18 May 1978, he was executed by firing squad at Abu Ghraib prison along with 22 other ICP members on charges of being a Communist and actively participating in a political movement other than the Ba’ath Party within in the Iraqi army.
The group of Iraqi footballers who played in the early 1970s experienced a new level of political persecution. One of the strongest teams in Iraq at the time was the Baghdad Youth Select XI which had beaten the East Germany national side 3-0 in Baghdad in 1969. The majority of the team was drawn from Al-Bareed (Post Office) and Sikak Al-Hadeed (Railway). The ruling Ba’athist authorities held top positions in the sports councils and after relations between the ICP and the Ba’ath Party soured, officials began to root out the prominent Communists. Al-Bareed and Sikak Al-Hadeed had always had a socialist background, and their coaches Georges Elias and Abdul-Rahman Al-Qaisi ‘Abu Auf’ were known to the sporting masses as holding leftist views, as did many of their players, who mainly came from lower working-class backgrounds in some of Iraq’s poorest neighbourhoods.
Both coaches had scouted shaabiya teams in Baghdad for the best young players. As the teams’ fortunes began to blossom, the Ba’athist authorities centred their attentions on them. By the mid-70s, both teams had been dissolved while many of their players had been either imprisoned or forced into exile.
One of those players was Kadhim Aboud, who could have carved out a long and successful career but for his political views. As it was, he was forced to retire at just 27 and took up arms as a guerrilla fighter in the mountains of northern Iraq after Saddam’s Ba’athist regime executed his three brothers and teenage son.
Born in 1948 in Baghdad, the son of railway worker, he grew up in a working-class household and saw football as an outlet from poverty. In his youth Kadhim played on the streets of Karradat Mariam for the reserve side of the shaabiya team Al-Fury. His heroes were Pelé and Hussein Hashim, a half-back from Baghdad’s famous Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya (Air Force) team. It was when his family moved to the slums of Al-Thawra City that Kadhim joined Al-Assafa Al-Ahly, one of the best shaabiya teams in Baghdad. There he was spotted by the coach Abu Auf, who persuades the young inside-forward to join his Al-Bareed team in 1965.
Kadhim Aboud had a slender and wiry physique but was noted for his great technical ability. He only ever played at senior level for Al-Bareed, which he referred to as “the People’s Team”, the club of the oppressed, formed by a group of players with the aim of opposing the ruling powers. Over the years,
Abu Auf put together a talented squad including Munaim Jaber, Faisal Salih, Flaih Hassan, Falah Hassan, Deli Attiya, Kadhim Shabib, Rahim Karim, Riyadh Shaker and Riyadh Najib. Having started in the third division, they won promotion to the top flight in 1969.
The red shirts of Al-Bareed became a phenomenon with their youthful squad of players, the way they were developed and trained and their political leanings. Kadhim Aboud, like many of his teammates had been a member of the ICP. The inside-forward was an influential figure within the party, taking part in activities in the democratic youth movement and working with players both in the shaabiya teams and league clubs. He became a popular figure within the football world, prompting the ruling Ba’ath party to tighten its surveillance of the player, but Kadhim continued his political activities despite threats and warnings from Ba’ath officials.
In 1968, Ammo Baba, coach of the Baghdad XI, called him up to play for the Baghdad Youth XI supervised by the Soviet coach Dr Yuri Ilichev and he scored a spectacular 30-yard strike past Jan Tomaszewski in a game against a Poland Under-22 side.
Ilichev wanted Kadhim in his side but found himself in a constant battle with the Iraq FA, at one point asking them openly why they hated the forward so much. Kadhim was top scorer in the Iraqi league in 1969-70 and with Ilichev in charge, he was selected for the national team’s tour of eastern Europe in 1970.
Iraq played in Yugoslavia, Poland, the USSR and East Germany, where Kadhim was the victim of a bizarre ruse to undermine his image. In an international friendly in Jena, an Iraqi player Ammo Yousef was sent off, the first Iraqi player to be shown a red card. The local press asked the Iraq FA for his name and were told it was Kadhim Aboud.
On his return to Baghdad, the ruling Ba’ath Party gave the player an ultimatum, demanding he join the party if he wanted to remain a national-team player but he refused. He never played for Iraq again.
The regime’s attention turned to Al-Bareed and, in 1974, the club was merged with Al-Minaa, a club based in Basra, 330 miles from Baghdad. At the end of that season, the team was dissolved. Many of the Al-Bareed players retired from the game but they continued to be harassed and some were imprisoned and interrogated.
Kadhim had to find work. One of his former team mates heard that government planned to arrest him and so warned Kadhim to leave the country. In 1977, Kadhim moved to Beirut. By the early eighties, he was in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan fighting with Al-Ansar (the Partisans), a guerrilla force attached to the ICP.
His family remained in serious danger and his younger brothers, Abdul-Zahra Aboud, a doctor, and Mohammed Aboud, a naval officer, were arrested, followed by a third brother, Adil Aboud, and finally his 14-year-old son Jawad Kadhim Aboud. All of them were convicted of belonging to an Islamic political movement and executed.