At the World Cup, American football will remove the Islamic emblem from the Iranian flag

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — The U.S. Soccer Federation is displaying Iran’s national flag on social media without the emblem of the Islamic Republic, saying it is supporting protesters in Iran ahead of the two countries’ World Cup game on Tuesday.

The Iranian government responded by accusing America of removing the name of God from their national flag.

The U.S. Soccer Federation’s decision adds another political storm to the first World Cup in the Middle East, which organizers had hoped would be spared off-field controversy.

It also comes as the US takes on Iran in a decisive World Cup match, already fraught with decades of enmity between the two countries and nationwide protests now challenging Tehran’s theocratic government.

The U.S. Soccer Federation said in a statement on Sunday that it had decided to forego the official flag on social media accounts to “show support for the women of Iran fighting for basic human rights.”

The Twitter account of the United States men’s team displayed a banner depicting the team’s matches in the group stage, featuring only the Iranian flag in the colors green, white and red. The same was seen in a post on his Facebook and Instagram accounts showing the point totals in his group so far.

The United States Soccer Federation displayed the official Iranian flag in an image with the Group B standings on its website.

The lack of the emblem comes as months of demonstrations have challenged the Iranian government since the September 16 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who had been detained by the country’s vice squad.

At least 450 people have been killed and more than 18,000 arrested since the protests began, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, an advocacy group that monitors the demonstrations.

Iran has not released numbers on casualties or arrests in months, claiming without providing evidence that the protests have been fomented by its enemies abroad, including the US.

Tehran also restricts access to the press and has detained more than 63 reporters and photographers since the demonstrations began, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, making it much more difficult to cover the unrest.

The Iranian mission to the United Nations and its football federation did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press. As comments raged online, Iran’s state television described the US federation as “removing the symbol of Allah” from the Iranian flag.

Iran’s semi-official ISNA news agency quoted Safiollah Fagahanpour, an adviser to Iran’s Football Federation, as saying that the “measures related to the flag of the Islamic Republic of Iran violate the law” of FIFA competitions.

“They must be held accountable,” Fagahanpour said. “Clearly they want to influence Iran’s performance against the US.”

The emblem of the Islamic Republic, designed in 1980, consists of four curves with a sword in between. It represents the Islamic saying, “There is no god but God.” It also resembles a tulip or lotus.

Also on the top and bottom of the flag are 22 inscriptions of “God is Great”, honoring the date on the Persian calendar when the Islamic Revolution began.

The flag has become a point of contention at the World Cup. Apparently pro-government supporters have waved and shouted at those who demonstrated after Amini’s death. Others have waved the lion and the sun flag of Iran, an emblem of the former ruler, the late Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, at competitions.

More security forces were seen at Iran’s last game against Wales. In the capital Tehran, riot police – the same who cracked down on the protests – waved the Iranian flag after the victory in Wales, angering protesters.

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Associated Press writer Ronald Blum contributed to this report.

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Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.

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