JACKI LYDEN, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Jacki Lyden.
The world of sports dominated the news today. In a few moments, we'll hear a report on today's finale of the scandal-plagued Tour de France. But first…
(Soundbite of gunshot)
Celebratory gunfire rang out in the streets of Baghdad today after the Iraqi national soccer team scored an upset victory in the Asian Cup finals.
The Lions of the Two Rivers beat heavily favored Saudi Arabia - one to nothing - to bring home the cup and denied the Saudi team a hope for forced championship.
NPR's John Burnett is in Baghdad where security forces hope to avoid a repeat of the violence that claimed over 50 lives last week when crowds poured into the street to celebrate Iraq's semifinal victory.
Hi there, John. Can you tell us what you're seeing and hearing?
JOHN BURNETT: Hi, Jacki. Well, I think it's really hard for Americans to understand just how emotional this has been for the Iraqis for their national soccer team to win this huge championship. Our own staff here at the bureau were weeping. There was an 80-year-old woman in the street outside the compound, tears streaming down her cheeks, congratulating everybody she met.
It's almost like a combination, a come-from-behind Superbowl victory with V-J Day. On Iraqi TV, they were showing huge crowds dancing in the streets, waving red, white and black Iraqi flags. There's even a woman dancing in a black abaya, not something you see that often.
And it's been the same thing all over the country. Our stringer in Iraq's second-largest city writes that Basra lives in a big carnival. It's the first time that people went to the streets without fear of militias. There's simply been nothing to celebrate or feel good about, and certainly nothing to look forward to except this match.
The bad news here is just it's been - it's unremitting between the car bombs and kidnappings and executions. And so Iraqis are just desperate for something to rally around, to unify them, something the parliament has certainly not done.
LYDEN: Was there something particularly dramatic, particularly fairytale about the way the match ended?
BURNETT: Well, it was the first Asian Cup championship for the national soccer team. It was against the archrival, neighbor Saudi Arabia, whose team is lavishly funded, travels in a private plane. The Iraq team is poor. The team members had family members killed and kidnapped.
The head coach, the Brazilian Jorvan Veira, he was only brought in two months ago to prepare the team. He's received death threats. But as he said, play this for the Iraqi people, play to put a smile on their lips. And they certainly did that today, this team of 15 players who represent all the ethnic groups here in Iraq: the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.
LYDEN: John, last week, as we know, car bombers did strike after the semifinal and killed many people. What precautions were in place for the final today?
BURNETT: Oh, there were lots of them. There was a curfew in the capital to keep cars off the street. The business day was shortened to allow people to go home and watch the game. As you said, the consequences were enormous.
Just four days ago, on Wednesday, when the suicide bombers killed more than 50 people in Baghdad. And so today, there were reports that the Iraqi security forces actually arrested two men in a car in east Baghdad and was still with explosives and they were accused of waiting to blow up celebrating soccer fans.
Of course, you know, the celebratory gunfire that we heard earlier, that certainly went on even though the government asked people not to. At one point, we heard the mullahsians(ph) were broadcasting from mosques for people to stop shooting. But they were so elated that it just filled the city.
LYDEN: John, did the Iraqi government have any reaction?
BURNETT: Well, everybody wants to be associated with this widely popular soccer team. And so the congratulations are coming from the federal government. The prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, already gave each player $10,000. And so they are the national heroes. And the parliament wants to be associated with them.
LYDEN: NPR's John Burnett speaking to us from Baghdad. Thank you, John.
BURNETT: It's a pleasure, Jacki.
LYDEN: And regrettably, there are reports coming in now that several Iraqis have been killed and scores wounded by that celebratory gunfire.
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