Football-crazed Iraqis watch World Cup despite danger

Football-crazed Iraqis watch World Cup despite danger

BAGHDAD - Raad Abdulhussein sits glued to a television in a Baghdad cafe, anxious over the dual concerns of his team trailing in a World Cup match, and the danger of bombings.

He puffs continually on a waterpipe as he sits quietly with three friends in the "Facebook" cafe, the silence only broken by shouts or clapping when the Netherlands advance toward Mexico's goal.

"Football brings us together," says Raad, a 30-year-old taxi driver, who visits the cafe every day with his friends to watch the matches, which due to the time difference are broadcast in the evening in Iraq.

"It is our only way to leave the atmosphere of worry and tension and fear of the unknown," he says.

"A car may explode at any moment, or a bomb, or a person enters the cafe and blows himself up," Raad says.

This year's World Cup comes during an unprecedented decline in security within Iraq, with Sunni militants led by the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group overrunning parts of five provinces in a lightning offensive that Iraqi soldiers and police are struggling to contain.

While the militant drive has yet to truly threaten Baghdad, the group's spokesman has vowed its forces will push on to the Iraqi capital and Shiite shrine cities farther south.

But the offensive is by no means the first time Baghdad residents have faced threats while going out to watch matches - the capital has lived under constant threat of bombings and violence for years.

Cafes are especially dangerous places, as militants often target them and other places where crowds of people gather, including markets and mosques.

Late last year, Baghdad security officials even held a seminar for cafe owners on how to deter and stop suicide bombers, after nearly 50 cafes were bombed nationwide in barely six months.

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