Bush-Cheney '04 is using the inspiring story of the Iraqi Olympic soccer team in campaign ads, and President Bush last week almost seemed to take credit for the team: "The image of the Iraqi soccer team playing in this Olympics, it's fantastic, isn't it? It wouldn't have been free if the United States had not acted," he said.
But the Iraqi players as well as their coach want President Bush to stop exploiting them, and shared their own perspectives on the war with Sports Illustrated.com. Let's just say they don't agree with Bush that their nation is yet "free."
"'Iraq as a team does not want Mr. Bush to use us for the presidential campaign,' [Iraqi midfielder Salih] Sadir told SI.com through a translator, speaking calmly and directly. 'He can find another way to advertise himself.'
Ahmed Manajid, who played as a midfielder on Wednesday, had an even stronger response when asked about Bush's TV advertisement. 'How will he meet his god having slaughtered so many men and women?' Manajid told me. 'He has committed so many crimes.'
" Sadir, Wednesday's goal-scorer, used to be the star player for the professional soccer team in Najaf. In the city in which 20,000 fans used to fill the stadium and chant Sadir's name, U.S. and Iraqi forces have battled loyalists to rebel cleric Moktada al-Sadr for the past two weeks. Najaf lies in ruins. 'I want the violence and the war to go away from the city,' says Sadir, 21. 'We don't wish for the presence of Americans in our country. We want them to go away.'"
"Manajid, 22, who nearly scored his own goal with a driven header on Wednesday, hails from the city of Fallujah. He says coalition forces killed Manajid's cousin, Omar Jabbar al-Aziz, who was fighting as an insurgent, and several of his friends. In fact, Manajid says, if he were not playing soccer he would 'for sure' be fighting as part of the resistance."
"'I want to defend my home. If a stranger invades America and the people resist, does that mean they are terrorists?' Manajid says. 'Everyone [in Fallujah] has been labeled a terrorist. These are all lies. Fallujah people are some of the best people in Iraq.'"