Skip to main content

Iraq: One dead and dozens injured at football stadium crush

Fans were queueing outside a stadium in Basra ahead of the Arabian Gulf Cup final between Iraq and Oman
Medics treat injured football fans after a crowd crush ahead of the final of the Arabian Gulf Cup in Basra between Iraq and Oman, on 19 January 2023 (AFP)
By Azhar Al-Rubaie in Basra, Iraq

At least one person died and 60 more were injured in a crush outside a stadium in southern Iraq on Thursday, according to Iraq News Agency (INA). 

Thousands of fans crowded outside the gates of Basra International Stadium at dawn ahead of the Arabian Gulf Cup final between Iraq and Oman, due to kick off at 7pm (4pm GMT).

Eyewitness Aymen Ibrahim told Middle East Eye that many of them were not ticket holders, which led to people pushing each other in an attempt to enter the stadium.

"I came here near the stadium at 6am to make sure I can enter easily, but I was not able to do so. I have a proper match ticket," the 26-year-old said.

"It is a mistake for anyone who does not have a ticket to try to reach the stadium... They can watch it in fan zones, cafes, or at home," he added.

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked

Injured football spectators are brought into an emergency area at the Basra International Stadium following a crush on 19 January 2023 (AFP)
Injured spectators are brought into an emergency area at Basra International Stadium following a crush, on 19 January 2023 (AFP)

An interior ministry official blamed the crush on the "large number of fans, especially people without tickets, who had gathered since morning and tried to enter" the stadium.

According to an AFP photographer inside the complex, the gates were closed when the crush took place. He said he heard the sirens from ambulances going to help the injured.

Al Jazeera reported that another person had died, quoting the Iraqi interior ministry, but there has been no confirmation from health authorities.

Videos on social media show people packed together tightly on a concourse near the stadium.

A Reuters video published on Thursday showed people wrapped in blankets in the dawn light, heading towards the stadium. Some appeared to have slept outside.

The video showed a police and military presence outside the stadium. At one point soldiers - some carrying sticks - appeared to be jostling to keep people back.

Logistical problems

Basra governor Asaad al-Eidani told local media that discussions are ongoing between authorities and the Arab Gulf Cup Football Federation about whether to go ahead with the match.

"We are speaking with the Arab Gulf Cup Football Federation on how to handle this issue. The federation informed us that if the situation continues as it is now, there is a possibility the match would be cancelled and transferred to a neutral country," Eidani said.

Ibrahim told MEE he hopes the match is postponed.  

"People's lives are more important than a football match. They can postpone it or move it to Kuwait," he said.

Iraqi president Mohammed Shia al-Sudani will visit the scene on Thursday, his office announced, according to AFP.

He chaired "an urgent meeting in the presence of some ministers and the governor of Basra... to discuss special measures for the final of the Gulf Cup 25", according to the same source.

Football fans took their seats early ahead of the final match of the Arabian Gulf Cup between Iraq and Oman in Basra on 19 January 2023 (AFP)
Fans take their seats early ahead of the final of the Arabian Gulf Cup between Iraq and Oman in Basra on 19 January 2023 (AFP)

In a press release, the army called on Iraqis to "respect security instructions" concerning access to stadiums, in order to "end the championship in a civilised way that brings honour to Iraq".

Iraq has been betting heavily on Basra's staging of the 25th Arabian Gulf Cup final to restore its image, after years without being able to organise such events due to security concerns.

This is the first time since 1979 that the Gulf Cup, a biennial event, has been held in the country.

But since the opening ceremony two weeks ago, logistical problems have plagued the tournament. Thousands of supporters - some with tickets - and accredited journalists have been refused access to the stadium without being given a reason.

On 8 January there was an altercation between 20 or so men in a VIP section of the Basra International Stadium before the opening match, which saw Iraq and Oman draw 0-0.

In 2019, at least 31 people were killed in a crush in the Iraqi city of Karbala. Shia worshippers were gathering for the festival of Ashura.

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.