US players on Iraqi team linked to attacks on troops


A pro basketball team in Iraq is owned by a paramilitary group, and some of its forces recently attacked U.S. troops. But this hostility toward Uncle Sam has its limits: The team is banking on a high-scoring American to help lead them to a championship.

Like many former U.S. college basketball players facing stiff competition for a spot in the NBA, 27-year-old Uchenna Iroegbu of Sacramento has taken his talents abroad, excelling on teams in Nigeria and Qatar. Now the 6-foot point guard is in Baghdad after signing last month with Hashed al-Shaabi — the Popular Mobilization Forces — just in time for the Iraqi Basketball Super League playoffs.

From a basketball perspective, signing Iroegbu was a no-brainer; he led Qatar’s league in scoring, averaging 27 points per game. Politically, it’s a little more complicated.

The U.S. has had a fraught relationship with Iraq since its invasion in 2003, which was followed by years of occupation. And that was before Iranian-backed forces within the group that owns Hashed attacked U.S. troops in the region.

One of three U.S. citizens on the team, Iroegbu considers this assignment to be just like any other — despite the unique security risks and political tensions in his host country.

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