Middle East round-up: Iran clashes with the USA (on the pitch)

Here’s a round-up of Al Jazeera’s Middle East coverage this week.

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(Al Jazeera)

Politics meets football after Iran take on the US, will Turkey start a new ground operation in Syria and Algeria sentences 49 people to death for a lynching. Here’s your round-up, written by Abubakr Al-Shamahi, Al Jazeera Digital’s Middle East and North Africa editor.

There are many who’ll tell you that politics and sport don’t mix. But come on, this is Iran against the USA that we’re talking about – the political undertones to this World Cup game were always going to be there. A roll call of some of the world’s major events of the last 70 years explains why: a CIA-backed coup against a democratically elected Iranian leader, the 1979 Islamic revolution, the Iran hostage crisis, the Iran-Iraq war, the Lebanese civil war and the Iraq war – all the way through to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, and then the subsequent withdrawal from it by the Americans.

And, if you need more? Well, look at how domestic events in Iran have affected this tournament. The Iranian team didn’t sing the national anthem in their first game, a sign the country’s anti-government protesters took as tacit approval for the protest movement. The team then proceeded to sing in the next two, with some speculating there may have been government pressure — especially following the arrest of a former national team player for supporting the protests. And in the stands, pro- and anti-government Iranians were both present, leading to tense situations at times, with some protest supporters even ordered to remove anti-government symbols by Qatari security.

[PHOTOS: The troubled history of US-Iranian relations]

The Americans themselves got involved in the act. A US Soccer social media account used an altered version of the Iranian flag to “support … women in Iran”. That was not well-received by the Iranian Football Association, who demanded that the US be thrown out of the tournament.

As for the actual football, well, it was essentially a play-off for qualification to the knockout stages. The Iranians didn’t really turn up, at least not until the latter stages of the game, and the US won 1-0, sending Iran home.

Turkey, Syria and the operation that may not happen

A few days ago, it appeared that the Turkish military was on the verge of launching a much-threatened ground offensive against the Kurdish-dominated YPG in northern Syria. Turkish journalists headed to the border, and statements from both Turkey and the SDF (which is largely made up of the YPG) indicated that a battle was imminent.

So far, however, the fighting has been restricted to air attacks and shelling that were already underway. According to Turkish sources who spoke to Al Jazeera, Turkey is negotiating with Russia, and has given time for its demands to be met. This one is far from over.

Algeria sentences 49 people to death

It was a horrible event, reported last August. It began when a 38-year-old good Samaritan had gone to help out as deadly wildfires raged through northern Algeria. But Djamel Ben Ismail found himself falsely accused by locals in Tizi Ouzou of actually starting the fires, and a mob beat him to death. An Algerian court found 49 of the people involved guilty of the lynching, and sentenced them to death.

And Now for Something Different

Sub-Saharan Africans make up roughly 6 percent of Qatar’s population. One of them, a Kenyan by the name of Bernard Wanjiku, initially worked as a taxi driver. But after constant questions from fellow Africans about beauty products, he ditched the cab, and opened up an African beauty store that has turned into a hub for the African community, especially during the World Cup.

In Brief

Saudi fan culture, with all its paraphernalia, shines at the World Cup – QatarEnergy to supply Germany with gas for at least 15 years in new deal – Two brothers among five Palestinians killed by Israel in one day – Cocaine ‘super-cartel’ raided in Dubai and Europe – Iran says it won’t cooperate with UN investigation into anti-government protests – Arab teams turn Qatar World Cup into a home tournament – US military reports rocket attacks on base in Syria – Far-right Itamar Ben-Gvir to be police minister in new Israeli government – Yemenis divided over support for Saudi Arabia in World Cup

Quote of the Week

“A lot of people say: How can I choose between my father and my mother?” – Fatima Zibouh, a Belgian citizen of Moroccan origin, on whether Belgian-Moroccans would support Belgium or Morocco ahead of the latter’s 2-0 victory in the World Cup. The question of identity has coe up a lot in this World Cup, with many teams featuring players born in different countries, and ethnic minorities divided between support for their country of origin, or the country they were born in or live in.

Source: Al Jazeera