THE IRAQI SERIES, DAY 16 – 20
SULAYMANIYAH – KIRKUT – BAGHDAD – BASRA – ISTANBUL
Iraq v Indonesia in Basra. Today we start the loooong a*s journey down to the very south of Iraq to watch one of Iraq’s most important football matches. The original plan was the fly but because I had such the experience during my overnight train I wanted to do it all again.
65,000 PEOPLE ARRIVING 3 HOURS EARLY FOR THE MATCH!
On our way to Baghdad our first stop was Kirkut, the oil country for Iraq’s northern region. It is here that the British came across a tiny flame and after a little digging found huge amounts of oil buried under the ground. An industry that is now worth over 100 billion dollars a year and 90% of their gdp!
WHERE IS KIRKUT?
The following day I took a dander around the city and spent a bit of time walking through the markets and the army surplus section. Never in my life did I expect to come across a Tesco t-shirt in Iraq! I was keen to buy it but even £2 was over my budget!
Iraq v Indonesia in Basra
- HOTEL –
The Continental Basra
The Genova Hotel, Istanbul
- ATTRACTIONS – (+rating)
Eternal flame, Kirkut
Basra Sports Stadium
Hayder took me to one of Baghdad’s nicest malls. It’s not the biggest but even then I didn’t see a single person walking through it! A far cry to what is expected in Baghdad and a perfect example that if you know the right person you can find whatever you want.
Iraq v Indonesia in Basra
FOOD CARRIAGE ROUND 2
After meeting my peculiar roommate I made out to the food carriage in search for a laugh and didn’t I get one. It was packed besides just one table in the middle and no longer had my arse touched the seat were there friendly locals coming over to introduce themselves. There’s very little English (and no Arabic on my part) spoken so the dialogue between us all was comical.
For a laugh I had to quickly show the raw reality of life (as a tourist) in Iraq and decided no better way than to go live on IG. The locals loved it and although I had no idea what they were saying to the 3 viewers who had decided to join it was one of the highlights. It’s places like this that show you how fun interactions with locals are. It might have some of the most historical sites in the world but still doesn’t come close to the experience of chatting with the locals.
These guys will not sleep on the train, they have basic seats in the front carriage (strangely called 1st class) and will spend all night talking in the food carriage, no alcohol involved!
Iraq v Indonesia in Basra
It wasn’t long before almost the entire carriage had congregated around the white guy with a camera and they were keen to pass it around. This all continued for a few hours until the conductor, one of few Iraqis I met who didn’t smile, asked me to leave. He knew he had two choices to stop the commotion, throw everyone else out or just me…got to admit I was actually surprised lol.
WHERE IS BASRA?
CONTINENTAL HOTEL, BASRA
After another dodgy sleep we arrived in Basra and met Abrahim who took me to the Continental. Not my usual choice of hotel but because the players were staying there I knew I had to take the opportunity. Fair play to them for giving me my room 8 hours early at 6am.
As the match didn’t kick off until 5:45 I did think I was on for a decent bit of kip until Abrahim said we should be in our seats 3 hours before kick off…have you ever heard the like if it (but he was right).
After a quick kip I enjoyed my western breakfast of fresh fruit, bacon and pancakes. There is no divide here, there’s a good chance players will be having breakfast on the table next to you. Imagine that at home, sitting next to Ronaldo while he eats his Eggs Benedict!
I knew this opportunity to get my Iraqi shirt signed was too good and I waited for whoever was willing. I have no idea who was who but luckily Abrahim was there to point me to the best. Asking one of the strikers to sign my shirt he replied in the thickest scouse accent possible,
“What are you doing here?”
It was Ali Al Hamidi who plays for Wimbledon, and a good lad who was happy to chat away, probably surprised as any to meet a fella from Belfast in Iraq.
We set off a little later than expected but still arrived almost 3 hours before kick off. The place is buzzing and with no bars or the like I can understand why people come here early as street vendors are already setup, selling the usual kebabs, shawarmas and chais! A far cry from the beer and burger option at home!
After the many checkpoints and friendly police we were in and sat down and the next 3 hours flew. Quite often the crowd would cheer, so much that I thought the teams were coming out, however, it turned out that the director was showing women on the big screen! 🤣
Again I could have brought nothing with me as locals were constantly offering me drink and snacks. There is no place on earth like this!
Finally it was time, 65,000 people had been waiting on their seats for over 3 hours and it did not disappoint! For much of the game we (Iraq lol) controlled the play and after scoring two goals was never really in doubt until Indonesia scored just before half time to make it 2-1. I missed the goal as I was p*ssing in some dark room I was told to go in, it most certainly wasn’t a toilet but I tend to do what I am told…for the most part.
Coming back for the second half it was a worrying 30minutes before Iraq doubled their advantage and from then it was a homerun with two other goals before the end. Good to see my scouse pal Ali Al Hamidi getting on the scoresheet before the final whistle!!
I am not sure these supporters sleep, they didn’t sleep on the train and by the looks of things they weren’t for sleeping tonight either. We headed to the corniche (promenade) along with what seemed like the rest of the 65,000 fans who attended. The atmosphere was great and we got talking to a ton of locals.
What I did forget was that Saddam’s boat was down here and we managed to get another look through it, this time without the care of the manager making sure I was behaving myself! What I wasn’t expecting was being gifted an Iraqi flag by some young kid who wanted a photo. And just when I thought that was the height of the generosity of Iraqi’s, I commented about some rando’s jacket, who then proceeded to take it off and hand it to me. I am not worthy!
FACTS ABOUT BASRA:
- Basra is the second largest city in Iraq and is located in the southeastern part of the country, close to the Iranian and Kuwaiti borders
- According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Iraq has the world’s fifth-largest proven oil reserves, with 140 billion barrels. Basra is the largest oil-producing city in Iraq and is home to a significant portion of the country’s oil reserves.
- However, despite its oil wealth, Basra has been plagued by poverty and a lack of basic amenities such as clean water and electricity.
Well that’s it and what a way to end the series, I could not have planned for a better ending. Now I am off to Istanbul for a night before heading back home. Ma Salam Iraq!
The Final thoughts on the Iraqi Series!! Click to read.
SAFE TRAVELS, DS x
To watch the video of my trip, head to my highlights on my Instagram.
- Do you enjoy sport?
- Would you like to watch sports in other countries?
- Which one is at the top of your list?
Let me know in the comments below . . .