BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Gunfire erupted across Baghdad and Iraqis danced in the streets on Wednesday after their soccer team’s historic Asian Cup win, but two suicide car bombs marred the war-ravaged nation’s rare moment of unity.
Police said a suicide car bomb exploded near a crowd of jubilant Iraqis, killing 30 and wounding 75 in Baghdad’s Mansour area.
Soon after, another suicide attack at an army checkpoint in east Baghdad killed another 20 people and wounded 60, many of them soccer fans celebrating nearby, police said.
The bombings were a sharp reminder of the sectarian violence between deeply divided Shi‘ite Muslims and minority Sunni Arabs that has killed tens of thousands.
In Sadr City, a sprawling Shi‘ite slum in Baghdad, women threw sweets to dancing soccer fans with Iraqi flags draped over their shoulders. Some families sacrificed sheep as celebrations dragged on into the evening.
Sadr City ice cream and juice shops gave away free treats, a rare sight in the district, a stronghold of the feared Mehdi Army militia of anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
Thousands of fans poured into the streets in all areas of Baghdad as well as Shi‘ite Basra and Kerbala in the south and Kurdish cities like Arbil, Kirkuk and Sulaimaniya in the north.
In Baghdad’s Karrada district, soldiers standing in the gun turrets of Humvee armored vehicles waved to dancing soccer fans and police joined in.
The celebrations began moments after Iraq beat South Korea in a dramatic semi-final penalty shootout, to reach the Asian Cup final for the first time.
“I am nearly crying for joy. Iraq’s victory with this harmonious team represents the way we should all live together,” said Nuri al-Najjar, a 30-year-old fan in Basra.
Iraqis in the autonomous northern region of Kurdistan even waved Iraqi flags in a rare display of national unity. Kurds normally view the Iraqi flag as an Arab symbol.
“Life for Iraq, life for Iraq,” fans in Sulaimaniya chanted.
Soccer-mad Iraqis, who have had little cause to celebrate during four years of unrelenting violence and chaos, have avidly followed their team’s progress through the tournament.
Many obtained extra fuel to make sure generators kept going during Wednesday’s match, the national power grid too unreliable to keep domestic appliances running.
State television flashed a warning from military commanders urging people not to fire guns into the air, but the warning appeared to go unnoticed as jubilant fans fired pistols and AK-47 assault rifles.
The crackle of gunfire could still be heard in Baghdad hours after the match ended. One person was killed and 17 wounded in the capital by falling bullets, police said.
Three people were killed and about 50 injured by falling bullets on Saturday after Iraq beat Vietnam to reach the semi-finals.