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Iraqi Police Col. Ahmed Hamid Sharqi al-Awani (center), the north precinct chief for Ramadi, cuts a ribbon signaling the reopening of the 17th Street Soccer Field July 24. According to Kareem Ali, the Ramadi North Precinct Council head, the entire city was looking forward to the reopening. “The people are so glad they have this soccer field again,” Ali said through an interpreter. “Before the reopening, it seemed like everywhere I went somebody would mention it to me and tell me how excited they were. Soccer brings everybody together regardless of their age.”

Photo by Lance Cpl. Casey Jones

Ramadi citizens gather for soccer field reopening

2 Aug 2008 | Lance Cpl. Casey Jones

Mustafa, a 14-year-old Iraqi boy, couldn’t stand still during a recent soccer tournament at the grand reopening of the 17th Street Soccer field July 24.

Donning a David Beckham t-shirt, he jokingly taunted the opposing team and passionately cheered for his own. Halfway through the game, a Marine, surprised to see a Beckham shirt, walked up to Mustafa and said, “David Beckham—zien (Arabic for good).” Mustafa, without hesitation, replied, “Beckham—koule zien,” or very good, as he jumped out of his seat and raised both arms as his team scored a goal.

Soccer, often considered “the sport that brings the world together,” is a big part of every day life in Ramadi, leading the city’s officials, with the assistance of Civil Affairs Detachment 2, 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, to have the field renovated.

The tournament was sponsored by the North District Council of Ramadi, North Precinct Ramadi Police and 1st Battalion, 9th Marines.

Kareem Ali, the Ramadi North District Council chairman, said the entire city was looking forward to the reopening.

“The people are so glad they have this soccer field again,” Ali said through an interpreter. “Before the reopening, it seemed like everywhere I went somebody would always mention it to me and tell me how excited they were (about the reopening). Soccer brings everybody together regardless of their age.”

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Eric Jett, a team leader with Civil Affairs, said the field was repaired in an effort to give the rebuilding neighborhood another sign of hope. The results were better than expected.

“Everyone thought the soccer field would only have a positive impact on the North Precinct of Ramadi, but after it was renovated everyone from the city started coming over here” said Ali. “It was originally built for the north district, but really it’s for everybody. The reopening has been big for the entire city.”

Ali said summer was the right time to reopen the field, giving the city’s youth a better opportunity to stay active and avoid any negative influences.

“We decided to open the soccer field during the summer because we wanted to get more teenagers and young people involved in some sort of extracurricular activity,” Ali said. “We wanted the youth to have some type of positive activity to help prevent any insurgents from trying to get into their heads and reversing our recent gains.”

The soccer field was closed during the height of insurgent activity because of violence that devastated the city.

The recent developments and peace Ramadi and its citizens are experiencing today would not be possible if they hadn’t taken a stand against al Qaeda, Ali said. The reopening of the field is a testament to the efforts and successes of the general public in coordination with Iraqi Police and Coalition forces.

“Today’s reopening of the soccer field would’ve been impossible two years ago,” Ali said. “We were too scared to go anywhere. We didn’t know what security was because there wasn’t any. The security situation in Ramadi is the only reason why we’re able to be here today.”

Ramadi’s leaders are making the most out of the region’s passion for the sport in the upcoming months, Jett said. City officials are planning a city-wide tournament, renovations to the area’s celebrated Mulaab Soccer Stadium, and they recently hosted a three-day youth conference with a soccer match highlighting the event.