In Iraq, ex-sports stars seek to shake up politics

Men look at a campaign poster of Basil Gorgis, a former Iraqi footballer, in a street in Arbil, the

BAGHDAD: In the sweltering heat of Mexico ’86, Ahmed Radhi and Basil Gorgis pulled on the same jerseys to represent Iraq’s football team in its sole World Cup Finals.

But now, a third of a century later, they’re just two of several former stars taking part in a very different contest – as parliamentary candidates in next month’s election.

While the World Cup adventure ended in dismal failure, with Iraq crashing out after losing all three of its group games, the ex-players’ appeal could be a big draw for some Iraqi voters.

“They already have fans,” says Hussein Hassan, a 45-year-old Baghdad resident. “It’s now the turn of these stars to put themselves at the service of the people.”

Distrust of politicians ahead of the May 12 vote is high, with the 15 years since the US-led toppling of former dictator Saddam Hussein marred by repeated periods of chaos and endemic corruption.

“We have more confidence in them than the politicians, who have changed nothing,” Hassan says.

It’s a view that Radhi, scorer of Iraq’s only World Cup Finals goal, takes on board.

“Iraqis need someone who shows that they are focusing on their interests, and who will work to guarantee a decent life,” the National Alliance candidate says.

The 54-year-old says his political group “brings together all communities and confessions.”

The National Alliance is led by Iraq’s Vice President Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite, and parliamentary speaker Salim al-Juburi, a Sunni.

It’s a union that seeks to move beyond Iraq’s Shiite-Sunni ethnic cleavage – a major pull for the ex-footballer.

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