Iraqi football player embarks on ‘Mission: Impossible II’

The Columbus Crew winger was born and raised in Michigan, while his parents arrived in the United States from Iraq

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Iraq forward Justin Meram entered the Asian Cup with the distinction of representing a country he has never been to.

The Columbus Crew winger was born and raised in Michigan, while his parents arrived in the United States from Iraq.

Despite never setting foot in the country, Meram’s dream of pulling on the Iraq jersey came true ahead of November’s Gulf Cup of Nations in Saudi Arabia.

While Iraq could not advance from the group stage in Riyadh, it was clear what the opportunity meant to Meram, who has dual citizenship. Pulling on the Iraq jersey was something he would “remember for the rest of my life”.

Meram then got another call-up, this time for the Asian Cup in Australia, a reward for his career-high eight goals and four assists in the 2014 Major League Soccer season.

But none of it looked remotely possible until last October as paperwork proved a nightmare for Meram, whose parents hail from Mosul, a city in northern Iraq now controlled by Islamic State militants.

“At times you almost want to just give up,” he told Sports Illustrated (SI.com) of his struggle to obtain an Iraqi passport. “We’d hear, ‘OK, you’re all set.’ Then a month later, ‘You need this document.’

“You’d get that, now you need a different passport picture than the one you sent them. Now you need the U.S. Soccer Federation to write a letter.

“Then they do that, but no, now you need a birth certificate from where your parents are from,” he said, adding that the process had been like a plot from the film ‘Mission: Impossible’.

“I don’t know the full extent of it. I just know we all felt like Tom Cruise,” said Meram, who came off the bench to make his Asian Cup debut in Iraq’s 1-0 win over Jordan on Monday.

A strong display in Australia, where Iraq also play defending champions Japan and debutantes Palestine in Group D, can bring some much-needed relief to the war-torn country.

For Meram, it is mission possible.

“If soccer can bring so much joy to them, then half of our job is done,” he told the Crew website (www.thecrew.com).

“The other half is on the field and getting results. The people are amazing and football is massive in Iraq.

“We know how much it means to the country every time we play.”