Iraqi Soccer Kids Win U.S. Hearts

It's safe to say that the boys who play for Iraq's national youth soccer team probably don't have too much fun in their lives. They got a treat last week when they traveled all the way to Texas for a big tournament. The Iraqi team didn't win the tournament, but as Kelly Cobiella reports, the kids did win a lot of hearts.

For Dallas soccer mom Tammie Barnes, mornings have been a lot busier recently. On the agenda, boiled eggs and tea, phone calls to Baghdad — and lots of bike riding. "They're riding bikes," says husband Greg Barnes, "to the point that you've got to go out and get them to leave."

But these Iraqi teens didn't come 7,000 just to pedal. They came to play in the prestigious International Dallas Cup soccer tournament. The team was made up of 18 kids from oil-rich Kurdish towns and insurgent-laden provinces, where back home, just practicing can be a game of life or death.

In the safety of Dallas suburbs, the Iraqi team started off hotter than a Texas summer, outscoring opponents 16-2.

But the tournament wasn't just about winning — at least not for the man who paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to bring the team to Texas. Granted, oilman Albert Huddleston wants to do more business in Iraq — but he also sees a bigger payoff.

"I think it's important that we have the young of tomorrow in America and also in Iraq and other countries know each other," Huddleston says.

In the Barnes house, it worked. In less than a week, their three house guests became more than just friends.

"They've become part of our family, very much so," says Tammie Barnes. "I don't want them to go home."

On the soccer field, the Iraqis were the fan favorites. But pride and passion weren't enough. Their dream of winning the tournament died in the quarterfinals, when a team from Cobb County, Ga., beat them by one goal.

"They came over here full of hope, since their country is at war — the gunfire days and nights," says Ayman Al-Kurd, a fan. "They wanted to go back with something to make the people happy ... make their parents proud of them."

That something may not be a trophy ... but it is a prize that may be worth a little more. And on Tuesday, they'll visit the White House.

  • John Kreiser

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