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FOR ONE DAY, IRAQIS UNITE IN TRIUMPH

Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds forget divisions for a day to celebrate.

It was a day Iraqis will remember for years to come.

Millions watched Sunday as the underdog Iraqi national soccer team won its first Asian Cup, beating three-time champions Saudi Arabia 1-0.

Fans took to the streets to celebrate across Iraq - in Kurdish areas to the north, Shiite holy cities to the south and several neighborhoods in the capital.

Revelers painted their faces with the tri-color Iraqi flag, threw candy or shot fireworks in triumph. Iraqi soldiers waved from passing vehicles. Honking cars clogged the main route into Baghdad's fortified Green Zone, home to the U.S. Embassy and U.S. military posts.

Sporadic gunfire, much of it deemed celebratory, still could be heard hours after the game ended. At least two civilians were killed in clashes with Baghdad police and two more in gunfire after the game, police said.

In Baghdad, the victory by the team fans call "the Lions of the Two Rivers," after the Tigris and Euphrates, reminded Shiite Muslim laborer Muhammed Hussein of Iraq's potential.

"These players helped us keep our faces up," Hussein, 43, said. "They showed us what the real Iraq is and how we can work hard to be something."

Leaders from various sects, including Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite Muslim; Vice President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd; and members of the largest Sunni Arab bloc congratulated the team on their win Sunday, as did Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq.

"This is a gift to the united Iraqi people, to the different spectrums of the Iraqi people," said midfielder Nashaat Akram as he stood drenched in sweat on the field in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Iraq's victory came on a 71st-minute header by captain Younis Mahmoud after Iraq dominated the Saudis.

After the game, Mahmoud called for the United States to withdraw its troops from his nation.

"I want America to go out," he said. "Today, tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, but out. I wish the American people didn't invade Iraq and, hopefully, it will be over soon."

Although Parliament remained in session Sunday, it was eclipsed by news of the game. Political blocs put their squabbles on hold for the day, with the largest Sunni party postponing a major statement in light of the game.

At a time when sectarian tensions between Shiites and Sunnis have worsened in the Iraqi government and on the streets, the soccer team has been credited with helping unite Iraqis. Its leaders include Sunni and Shiite Muslims who work well together and often talk about overcoming sectarianism.

Zuhair Muhammed Jabir, a police officer in the southern city of Hillah, said the last time he was so happy was the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003.

"Now we are facing all this terror and violence - Iraq is bleeding," he said. "The win is a bandage healing those wounds. It's a lesson to politicians that Iraqis can be one. We were all supporting our team, none of us was saying this player is a Sunni, a Shiite or Kurd."

Many listened with apprehension as a chorus of automatic gunfire erupted across the capital and in several other cities, despite warnings issued earlier in the day by Iraqi security forces and the country's leading Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who forbade the gunfire with a religious fatwa, or decree.

After the Iraqi team's previous Asian Cup game against South Korea on Wednesday, at least 50 people were killed by two car bomb explosions in the capital and another person by celebratory gunfire. Three people were killed by gunfire in the capital after the quarter-final game against Vietnam on July 21.

In Kirkuk, a northern oil city known for its various ethnicities, Sirwan Rasheed, 55, a Kurd, said he erected flags in the team's honor with friends of various sects and ethnicities - Sunni and Shiite Arabs, Turkmen and Christians.

"This team has united the sons of Iraq from the south to the north," he said.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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