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Funding a football league in Falluja

By Olivia MacLeod
BBC News

The Iraqi victory in football's Asian Cup in July 2007 prompted joy across the country - and sparked an idea in a football fan far away in the United States.

Kids playing football in Falluja
A US Marine joins Iraqi children in a game of football in Falluja

Boston travel agent Roxana von Kraus decided to print 100 posters of the winning team to send to her son, a US marine on his third tour of duty in Iraq.

Her son, Capt Brian von Kraus handed out the posters to Iraqi children he met while on patrol in Anbar province.

"They loved it, I got rid of them all in about two days," he told the BBC News website from the US military's Habbaniyah Camp, west of Falluja.

"Then, the sheikhs from the Abu Issa tribe invited us marines over for dinner."

Football league

Capt Kraus says he was impressed that a small gesture could generate so much goodwill. It gave him the idea of setting up a children's football league.

"If soccer posters can bring people together, imagine what a soccer league could do."

Probably we all feel guilty, as Americans, with what's going on in Iraq. That may explain the generosity. $10,000 alone came from one lady in Maine, who wants to remain anonymous
Roxana von Kraus

"We see kids playing soccer in the fields all the time, but there's no league or anything like that for them. We want to create six teams per age group in the area, 24 teams in all.

"I'm doing it with a friend here, Capt Carlos Gomez who was a soccer coach in civilian life. He's talking to the local sheikhs."

He contacted his mother in Boston, and together they started "Operation Ultimate Goal" to raise money to provide kit for the new league. They have raised nearly $20,000 in the US in just three months.

"The project has gone way beyond my expectations, I was expecting a couple of boxes of old uniforms but we've got enough to buy new equipment, new uniforms, sneakers, everything."

map

They aim to get the league established by the end of January 2008.

Brian says the positive attitude of local people to the project contrasts with his first experience of Falluja three years ago.

"I am sure some of the people who are now working with us were the same people who were targeting us before.

"Back then, in Falluja 2004, there was a constant risk of IEDs [improvised explosive devices], mortar attacks and ambushes. But since April 2007 it's been extremely quiet. This time Iraqis are able to look beyond just surviving, to their future."

The drop in violence stems in part from an agreement taken by local leaders to start fighting against al-Qaeda and to work with the US military.

US charity

Back in Boston, Roxana has great hopes for the league. She told the BBC News website that she developed her love of football in her native Romania.

Sister and brother in Anbar province
Operation Ultimate Goal aims to unite Iraqi children through football

"I've always thought that soccer solves everything - and we have already seen it can unite Sunni and Shia in Iraq.

"Probably we all feel guilty, as Americans, with what's going on in Iraq.

"That may explain the generosity. $10,000 alone came from one lady in Maine, who wants to remain anonymous."

Next, I'd love the Iraqi children to come here and play with local teams. I think the Iraqis might win hands down, but that's another story."


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