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Syria footballers take refuge in Iraq as tables turn

Damascus, Thursday @PxoplxSports11

A decade ago, Iraqi footballers used to take refuge in neighbouring Syria to pursue their career but the tables have turned in the tumultuous world of Middle East conflicts.

Nadim Sabagh remembers the Iraqis who played at Tishrin, his club in the northern metropolis of Aleppo that was to turn into a hotspot in Syria’s devastating conflict.

Today, he has signed up for a second season with Al-Zawra, a leading side in the Iraqi capital. The 32-year-old Syrian international quit his country back in 2011 at the outset of the war and first played for Arbil, the biggest club in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Fellow Syrian Mahmud Khadduj held out four years longer before joining him in exile. He says he “remembers very well” days when they would be training at the stadium of Ittihad, another Aleppo side, “as rockets and bullets rained down”.

Back in 2015, as Aleppo was being pulverised in clashes between government forces and rebels, as well as by jihadists and Russian air strikes, Khadduj decided to call it a day. His escape came in the form of a contract with a club in Karbala, a Shiite city south of Baghda. —AFP

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