Bombs spoil rare moment of joy

BAGHDAD - Gunfire erupted across Baghdad and Iraqis danced in the streets after their football team's historic Asian Cup win, but two suicide car bombs marred the war-ravaged nation's rare moment of unity.

Police said a suicide car bomb exploded near a crowd of jubilant Iraqis, killing 30 and wounding 75 in Baghdad's Mansour area. Soon after, another suicide attack at an Army checkpoint in east Baghdad killed a further 20 people and wounded 60, many of them football fans celebrating nearby.

The bombings were a sharp reminder of the sectarian violence between Shiite Muslims and minority Sunni Arabs.

In Sadr City, a sprawling Shiite slum in Baghdad, women threw sweets to dancing soccer fans with Iraqi flags draped over their shoulders. Some families sacrificed sheep as celebrations dragged on into the evening. Sadr City icecream and juice shops gave away free treats, a rare sight in the district, a stronghold of the feared Mehdi army militia of anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

Thousands of fans poured into the streets in all areas of Baghdad as well as Shiite Basra and Karbala in the south and Kurdish cities like Arbil, Kirkuk and Sulaimaniya in the north. In Baghdad's Karrada district, soldiers standing in the gun turrets of Humvee armoured vehicles waved to dancing fans and police joined in.

The celebrations began moments after Iraq beat South Korea in a dramatic semi-final penalty shootout, to reach the Asian Cup final for the first time. Iraqis in the autonomous northern region of Kurdistan even waved Iraqi flags in a rare display of national unity. Kurds normally view the Iraqi flag as an Arab symbol.

- REUTERS

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