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Laying the Groundwork for Peace in Irak

Laying the Groundwork for Peace in Irak

Last Sunday marked the eighth annual International Day of Peace. Here in Khanaqin, Iraq, we celebrated by holding a soccer match between two groups of people who don't always play for the same team.

Recent news reports have described Khanaqin as the center of a power struggle between Kurds and Arabs. Tensions are high because of the presence of both Iraqi Army soldiers from Baghdad and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters from the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan, each seeking to establish territorial control.

A Show of Harmony

The tensions quickly dissolved, however, during last Sunday's match. Each team consisted of five Army soldiers and five Peshmerga members. They played on a four-month-old soccer pitch built by Mercy Corps with support from the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance — the town's only grass field open to the public.

As the game began, many of the 200 spectators crowded into the sideline tent, including high-ranking officials from both sides. The atmosphere was jovial, with lots of banter and teasing about which team to root for. One particular moment stopped the conversation: An Arab soldier was hurt, helped off the field by a Kurdish player and treated by a Peshmerga medic. We watched in silence, absorbed in the moment.

These small displays of unity continued throughout the match. After it was over, the players left the field hand-in-hand to a standing ovation from the crowd. The only shooting was done by four Iraqi television crews, who broadcast news of this remarkable event across the country.

The Healing Power of Sports

Anyone who's ever joined a team can attest to the power of sports to transcend difference. Sponsoring athletic events and building playing fields is an important part of our work in Khanaqin. It helps us deepen community ties and foster other initiatives, like expanding health services, sponsoring women's forums, and ensuring that displaced Iraqis have clean drinking water and access to education.

Your financial support helps families continue to benefit from these important programs.

It's also important to note that our game in Iraq was one of six matches Mercy Corps organized on Sunday. Our efforts were inspired by Peace One Day, a UK-based organization that in 2001 helped convince the UN to designate a day each year to promote peace. Mercy Corps also uses sports in Peru, China and other post-disaster settings to help youth recover from trauma.

I wouldn't go so far as to suggest sports can solve Iraq's troubles. But it's hard to overstate the hopeful poignancy of Sunday's match. Sometimes, the mingling of adversaries on an athletic field can go a long way toward building the shared sense of community that's so vital to this country's future.


Article type



Steve Haley


Thursday, September 25, 2008 - 23:00

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