AL QA’IM, Iraq --
The patter of bongo drums and the cheerful chants of the townspeople set the stage for a match that would go down in history for the village at the T-1 pumping station in Iraq.
To unify two historically separate organizations, the Marines from Company I of Task Force 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5, hosted the Al Qa'im Area Annual Iraqi Security Forces Football Championship between the Iraqi Army and the Iraqi police.
The town emptied to the village football field to cheer on their local heroes and support the unification that will ensure their future security.
“As a part of the campaign plan to partner with both (Iraqi Police) and (Iraqi Army) throughout Al Qa'im, I came up with various community related events with the IP and the IA working together for the people,” said Capt. T.J. Owens, the commanding officer of Company I. “After all, the people are what they have in common, and if it serves the people and brings them together at the same time, mission accomplished.”
During warm-ups, it was apparent that the match was taken seriously from both sides. Football, better known as soccer in the United States, is a cherished sport in the region, and though the competition was friendly, it was also fierce at the same time.
My brother is playing on the other team, said an Iraqi policeman. We have been looking forward to this for a long time.
The teams lined up at the center of the field and faced a crowd that included various sheiks and officers from both the Iraqi Army and the Iraqi Police. The players stood staunchly as the Iraqi National Anthem played.
“I was impressed to see so many supporters out there,” said Sgt. Albert Pelham, a Marine from Company I and head referee for the match. “The kids were having a blast. It was important for them to see everyone working together.”
The best-of-three tournament kicked off with both teams remaining scoreless by the end of regulation in the first match. The game was then decided by the tournament’s most valuable player, the Iraqi Police goalie, who blocked two shots during the resulting penalty kick shoot-out.
The Iraqi Army answered quickly by scoring a goal within the first minute of the second match, but the Iraqi Police eventually tied it up, stirring the crowd into a frenzy of excitement.
In the second half, a game winning goal by the Iraqi Police brought the tournament to a dramatic finish.
“The event was termed a success by all who witnessed it,” Owens said. “Several people questioned why such events had not been done in the past, and many inquired as to the likelihood of follow-on events. I encouraged the (Iraqi Security Forces) to continue doing events for their people similar in nature to the soccer match.”
The Iraqi Army, though disappointed by their loss, seemed to have formed a tighter bond with the Iraqi police while joking about the projected outcome of next year’s planned rematch.
The Marines from Company I ran a concession stand during the tournament, raising proceeds so the Iraqi Security Forces could support the event annually. The Iraqi Police were tasked with setting up next year’s tournament to defend their title.
After the trophy presentation, the Iraqi Police loaded up in the back of their police trucks and paraded through the village as the local champions.
The Iraqi people saw the day as a friendly competition for all to enjoy, but the deeply rooted significance of the interaction between the Iraqi Army and the Iraqi Police will undoubtedly be the lasting effect.
“I wanted them to see that a better Iraq was possible, and that environment was being provided by Iraqi Security Forces,” Owens said. “The resounding effect I hoped to have on both ISF and the people of Iraq was a peace that they can have if they work together in securing their land.”