Iraqi's show how football can unite a warring nation

Phil Simms writes: IS IT true that sport, particularly football, can unite a nation? Following Iraq's 1-0 victory in the final of the Asia Cup we have witnessed the one thing that politicians and armed forces have failed to do  — bring a nation together. The Iraqi cup-winning squad is full of Sunnis, Shias, Kurds and Turkomans. Socially the different factions are almost diametrically opposite and it has been an intense power struggle in the country to leave one of these groups in overall control. There has been systemic violence and many innocent people have been killed as a result of religion and political manipulation. However, following their cup triumph the country saw something that it had never experienced collectively  — an achievement. Hundreds of thousands of jubilant countrymen defied watchful gunmen to celebrate in the streets to signal the most dramatic and important turning point in the war-torn country's modern history. Just think 11 men and a football, in one game thousands of miles away it is stupidly simplistic if you think about it. The players are drawn from all sections and all parts of Iraqi society  — that is a true symbol of national unity. In the days of Saddam, the Iraqi team knew if they underperformed they risked being humiliated or tortured by the former dictator's son Uday. Such  'motivational' techniques included imprisonment and the threat of cutting off their legs. In contrast, however, the Iraqi government announced that the team would get a bonus of  £5,000 each, whether they won or not.