Football game in war zone sees sides drop their guards for show of good sportsmanship.
AIRMEN from a Moray base have been breaking down barriers with villagers in Iraq – using the international language of football.
A squad of players from 51 Squadron RAF Regiment, normally based at RAF Lossiemouth, took time off from guarding the British military base at Basra Airport to turn out on the pitch against a team from Imam Anas, near Basra.
The squadron has built up a strong rapport with people living locally during regular patrols of the area.
The football match marked a breakthrough in relations with the local Iraqi population.
It was the first time the home side knew in advance that the servicemen would be visiting the area.
The soldiers played in RAF football kit with no body protection and the villagers wore an Arsenal strip.
The game resulted in a close-fought 5-4 victory for the Moray side after the RAF goalkeeper, flying officer Mark Bowden, saved the day when the match went to penalties.
The game was the idea of Flight Lieutenant John Rees, deputy squadron commander 51 Squadron RAF Regiment, and local councillor and school headmaster Qais Joudah.
Ft Lt Rees said: “This is an excellent demonstration of the goodwill and relationship we have built up with Imam Anas since the beginning of our tour here.
“It’s a great day and a good reflection of the stage of the operation we are currently at, supporting the Iraqi army and police to pull this event off.
“It’s nice for the blokes from the squadron to get out of their military kit and integrate properly with the local population.”
Mr Joudah said: “This is good for relations and fostering close links with the British. We look forward to close links and relations with the US forces too.”
Adil al Galibi, an English teacher at the local school, said: “The Iraqi people love football and the children have been so excited about today. It’s so good.”
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