BAGHDAD, Iraq — Police danced at checkpoints and gunmen fired their weapons in celebration Saturday as thousands of jubilant Iraqis poured into the streets of Baghdad after their national soccer team's 2-0 victory over Vietnam in a quarterfinal match of the Asia Cup in Bangkok, Thailand.
The impromptu citywide parade lifted the capital's wartime gloom and let Iraqis forget momentarily the daily frustrations of their lives.
Families spent precious gasoline cruising up and down the main street in the central neighborhood of Karada. Taxi drivers honked their horns and blasted patriotic music. Children, typically shut indoors for their protection, whooped and jumped in the middle of intersections. Iraqi women trilled from balconies, while throngs of ecstatic young men peeled off their shirts and waved them in the air.
"All this is not only for the game - it's for the wounds of Iraq," said Sahar Abd Ali, a beaming, 40-year-old mother who strolled among the celebrants. "God willing, this shows that even those deep wounds can be healed."
The festivities were unusual partly because of what was missing. No gunmen stopped passersby from filming the scene with their cell phones; in fact, many revelers slowed down to make sure they were photographed. Showing none of the usual everyday fear of revealing personal details, Iraqis gave their full names and lengthy interviews to a reporter. Iraqi television was still providing live coverage hours later.
And, perhaps most tellingly, the marchers in Karada didn't fall back on oft-repeated sectarian slogans or brandish photos of Iraq's powerful clerics. The only posters in sight showed the soccer team, especially the star forwards: No. 10, Younes Mahmoud, a Sunni Arab who scored both goals in the game, and No. 11, Hawar Mullah Mohamed, a Kurd.
"By this game, we are united! By this game, we are defiant!" chanted one group of youths wrapped in Iraqi flags.
"How about a little something for Iraq's good fortune?" one beggar asked with a wide, toothless grin.
Few spectators missed the irony of Iraq defeating Vietnam, a nation with its own experience with a bloody, ill-fated U.S. war. One Iraqi sports commentator dubbed the match "the wounded vs. the healed."
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki praised "the brave lions of Mesopotamia" and the embattled Iraqi parliament blessed the players in a session before the game.
The U.S. military also rooted for the home team in Wednesday's semi-finals in Kuala Lumpur. "Good luck against the winner of the second-round quarterfinals team, neighboring Iran or the Republic of Korea!" a U.S. statement said.
Sporadic bursts of celebratory gunfire sounded even before the game had ended, and erupted into a full-scale symphony once the clock had run out. The rat-a-tat-tat of machine guns was drowned out by the thundering booms of larger weapons. Iraqi authorities said at least two people were killed and 50 injured by stray bullets.
At one traffic circle, Iraqi police abandoned their checkpoint and were busy lighting fireworks. At another, Iraqi soldiers in spiffy uniforms danced in a circle, pumping their AK-47s in the air.
"This is the happiness of a whole people," said Abdel Basit Majeed, 41, who watched the game from his sporting-goods shop in Karada. "They are forgetting what happened to them yesterday, what happened last year, what happened before. They needed this joy. This is proof that the Iraqi people are bigger than their tragedies."