World Cup banner in Fallujah sparks fears of Qatari interference in Iraqi elections
BAGHDAD: The sudden appearance of an apparently politically motivated advert for the 2022 Fifa World Copy is causing anger and concern in Iraq. Many fear that the poster, featuring an image of Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim Al-Thani, is an attempt by some Iraqi political forces to curry favor with Doha and attract financial and political aid in the run-up to provincial elections next year.
The Iraqi Ministry of Sports and Youth and local authorities in Sunni-dominated Fallujah were surprised on Monday morning to find the large banner hanging at the northern entrance to the city.
Set against a purple background, similar to the color of Qatar’s flag and the uniforms the country’s soccer team wears, it features an image of Sheikh Tamim wearing a blue suit and holding a soccer ball. Beside him is the logo for the 2022 World Cup, which Qatar is hosting, and the words: “The Qatar World Cup is the pride of the Arabs.”
Iraq has been one of the main battlegrounds between Iran and the US since 2003. Each side controls dozens of armed groups and has political allies in the country. Qatar, which has turned into the Iranian camp since last year, is trying to win over the Iraqis and seek a foothold on the ground. Political analysts and observers said the appearance of banners such as the World Cup advert is an attempt by certain Iraqi political parties to show their loyalty to the emir and encourage Qataris to get involved financially and politically in Sunni-dominated areas.
It has angered many Iraqis, who accuse the Qatari regime of supporting terrorist groups that have killed tens of thousands of Iraqis in the past 16 years.
Fallujah is in Anbar province, one of the largest Sunni-dominated provinces in Iraq. Sunni political forces there are battling to gain support as they prepare for provincial elections due to be held across Iraq in April.
Gaining the votes of Anbar residents means cutting half way to control local governments in Sunni-dominated parts of western and northern Iraq. The appearance of posters and banners such as the World Cup advert is an attempt to secure Qatari financial aid and political support, analysts said.
“Whoever is behind this, the intention is very clear: It is a call for financial and political support in preparation for provincial elections next year,” said Sarmad Al-Bayati, an Iraqi political analyst.
“Anbar is the focus of Iraqi Sunni politicians, and those who control it will get the attention of Baghdad and be able to impose their vision on the rest of the Sunni areas. Anbar is the key to forming the long-waited Iraqi Sunni region.”
Federal authorities in Baghdad and local authorities in Fallujah denied having any involvement with the banner and said they consider it a “violation” of international sports charters and an “unacceptable political exploitation” of a global event.
“The issue is purely political,” said a source close to the Iraqi Minister of Sport and Youth, who declined to be named. “According to international sports charters and international laws, no party can use any political or religious symbols to announce the World Cup or promote any of its activities.
“This (banner) is a violation of all these charters and laws and not suitable for sport as it strikes a chord that does not serve sport.”