The Iraqi national football team has begun training in their homeland for the first time since the United States led invasion into the country in 2003.
The team has been training in capital city Baghdad since last week in preparation for the 2015 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers.
The Baghdad training sessions mark the first time that the players have played at home since the war ten years ago, with their home field located in countries including UAE and Qatar in the interim.
Police forces have been deployed around the stadium to ensure safety.
“We have convinced a foreign coach to train the team in Baghdad, and that’s a remarkable achievement for us, and it proved that Iraq today is safe,” said Laith Hussein, team manager of the Iraqi national football team.
“I am very happy because this is my country. All the players like playing in their country,” said Younis Muhammad, captain of the national team.
“The star players started in this People’s Stadium, then they went abroad to play in professional leagues. Now they are back to the People’s Stadium because they are the children of Baghdad, and you can see how happy the fans now that these professional players have come back,” said the head of the Iraqi national football team fans’ association.
“I feel great. All these star players came back home for training. I hope FIFA will lift the ban on the home field in Iraq, which would then enable us to host international matches,” said a fan.
In January, officials of the Iraqi Football Association met with FIFA President Sepp Blatter at the 2013 Gulf Cup of Nations in Bahrain and expressed the hope that Iraq could be allowed to hold international matches at home.
“We are sending FIFA a sign that Iraq is becoming more transparent and safer. Although there are violent events occasionally, it’s getting better in general. The ban on the home field should be canceled so that the Iraqi players can play in Iraq,” said Laith Hussein.