Riot police beat some onlookers with clubs to drive them away from the gate when the stampede broke out, he said.

Saddam Hassan, an ambulance driver, said people of all ages were standing by a metal fence leading to the gate where the stampede took place. He said his ambulance took injured with «bruises and broken bones» to the hospital.

The Iraqi Interior Ministry urged people without tickets for the final match to leave the area. He said that the stadium was full and all the gates were closed.

Iraq’s new prime minister, Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, who arrived in Basra on Thursday, urged people to help the authorities «to show the final match of the 25th edition of the Gulf Cup in its most beautiful form.» .

The tournament, which began on January 6, had several incidents, including a commotion outbreak inside the VIP section that caused a Kuwaiti prince to not attend the opening match. It was not clear what the commotion entailed, but Kuwaiti media said it was «bad organization».

Members of the Iraqi stadium security team carry an injured soccer fan before the final between Iraq and Oman in Basra on January 19, 2023.Hussein Faleh / AFP – Getty Images

The tournament included teams from the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates), as well as from Yemen and Iraq.

The stampede dealt a blow to organizers just as the biggest prize of hosting the 2026 World Cup qualifiers seemed within reach for Iraq.

Due to security concerns, Iraq has hosted only two World Cup qualifiers since the US-led invasion in 2003, against Jordan in the northern city of Erbil in 2011 and Hong Kong in Basra eight years later.

All other competitive games involving the national team have been played in neighboring countries such as Jordan, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates.