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Rare jubilation for a war-torn nation

  • Story Highlights
  • CNN's Arwa Damon: On live TV, I had a "ridiculous grin" watching game
  • Celebrating Iraqis piled into the street, smiling, wearing bizarre costumes
  • American troops celebrated alongside them
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By Arwa Damon
CNN
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Editor's note: In our Behind the Scenes series, CNN correspondents share their experiences covering news and analyze the stories behind the events.

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- "This is our life now; it's going to start again!"

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CNN's Arwa Damon at times found herself forgetting she was on live TV.

Anita, an interpreter with the U.S. military, screamed into the microphone over the celebration racket after Iraq won the Asia Cup this weekend.

I had a ridiculous grin plastered across my face during our coverage. I kept turning toward the screen whenever the room erupted, not wanting to miss a moment, forgetting that I was live on air.

For the Iraqis, faces covered in paint, and the Americans who joined them in jubilation -- some even sporting Iraqi sports uniforms -- the victory was a moment the country never expected to enjoy. Video Watch Arwa Damon report amid jubilant Iraqis »

It was as if in that moment when the clock ran out and Iraq won the championship, all the pain and agony of war was forgotten. It was a moment of optimism and joy, a respite from the black humor that dominates life here.

"When was the last time you were this happy?" I asked Anita.

"A long time; it's been a long time!" she shouted.

One of the American soldiers lifted an Iraqi on his shoulders. Anita couldn't stop dancing, and I couldn't believe I was finally seeing Iraq happy.

"This is the Iraq that we love!" one of the Iraqi fans proclaimed. "This is the Iraq that we want!"

The nation's soccer team managed something Iraqi politics has so far been unable to accomplish: A united Iraq.

Out on the streets of Khadimiya, where the U.S. military took us, it was hard to believe this was a war zone. It looked more like a Mardi Gras parade.

Iraqis piled into the backs of pickup trucks wearing bizarre costumes and sounding their car horns in celebration. Children spilled out of windows as tiny fireworks shot thin flares of red and green into the air.

It was pure fun. War was out the window, at least for a time.

"This is Iraq -- Iraq will not be defeated!" someone shouted.

"Good mister, good mister" others sang, smiling at U.S. soldiers, urging them to dance with the crowd.

Later, I'm back at my desk in our bureau, memory scrolling through snapshots of Sunday, freeze-frames of the elation among Iraqis, and I still can't stop grinning.

Producer Mohammed Tawfeeq has a similar expression. He has been jumping up and down since his team won.

And for once, photographer Dave Allbritton got to shoot something fun.

From the fan who threw an Iraqi flag over my shoulders in the middle of a live shot, to the one who sprayed us with foam in Khadimiya, the Iraqis we interviewed in the street were unable to utter more than a few coherent words before breaking into cheers.

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I recall a wacky duo in wigs dressed as women on a scooter, a gang parading around in the oversized glasses.

It was an extraordinary day. This nation deserves something to be happy about, and these days, seeing Iraqis smiling is extraordinary. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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