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Women Demanding Right To Watch Sporting Events; Pope Francis Ex- Communicates Mafia In Southern Italy

Aired June 22, 2014 - 11:00:00   ET


BECKY ANDERSON, HOST: Four more town fall to ISIS as the Islamist militia burns its way through Iraq. Who is supporting it and what regional players

could be next? The counter fears of a full-blown civil and regional war. I'll put those questions and more to Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the

United Nations in what will be an exclusive interview here on CNN.

Also ahead, more Palestinians killed in the hunt for missing teenagers with Israel accused of dispensing a former collective punishment, we speak to

the country's government spokesman.

And the unifying power of sport being felt in Tehran. Find out what challenges Iranian women face as they try to support the home side.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN Abu Dhabi, this is Connect the World with Becky Anderson.

ANDERSON: A very good evening from here. It is 7:00.

The Sunni militant group ISIS now just about 100 kilometers from the Iraqi capital of Baghdad. Iraqi officials confirm ISIS controls more than 70

percent of the western province of Anbar.

Let me get you the very latest on what is going on, on the ground here. ISIS fighters have seized more -- four more towns in western Iraqi,

including a border crossing to Syria.

The Iraqi military says it's conducting, and I quote, strategic withdrawals in some areas.

Well, meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in the region to rally support for Iraq's stability.


JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: This is a critical moment where together we must urge Iraq's leaders to rise above sectarian motivations

and form a government that is united in its determination to meet the needs and speak to the demands of all of their people.


ANDERSON: John Kerry in response to a question at a press conference in Egypt where he has been meeting the president and the foreign minister,

when asked to respond to the Iranian supreme leader who accused the U.S. of trying to plant effectively new leadership in Iraq.

Well our senior international correspondent Nic Robertson is joining us from Baghdad with the very latest from there.

Let's talk about John Kerry's comments in a moment. First, ISIS fighters on the ground seizing four more towns, one very close to the Syrian border

only now shy of Baghdad some 100 kilometers away. And the Iraqi military saying it is conducting, quote, strategic withdrawals.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, the Iraqi military calls it -- the Iraqi military calls it strategic withdrawals, Becky, but

what we're hearing from tribesman who are supporting the ISIS fighters, the tribesman say that they went to the army in many locations and said, look,

we can guarantee your safety only if you put down your weapons, change out of your uniforms and go home.

It was an ultimatum. And most of them seem to have done that.

al Qaim was different. al Qaim was a town on the border with Syria. After three days of fighting, the Brigade there was overrun. They had really put

up a fight, but they couldn't hold back ISIS. That has now put these ISIS fighters in a position where they now essentially control the main highway

down the Euphrates River valley linking their safe havens in Syria literally, quite literally with the suburbs of Baghdad. They are very,

very close to the city now. And that, for them, is an important military, strategic asset if you will to have control of those roads to be able to

move closer to the capital.

About an hour's drive in Musayyab south of the capital, ISIS fighters are believed to have mortared an Iraqi army recruiting center. That killed

four people at the recruiting center and wounded 34 others.

ISIS is gaining ground in al Anbar. The government seems to be holding them off more in the north at the moment, Becky.

ANDERSON: We heard from John Kerry just earlier on, just moments ago speaking at a press conference where, as I suggested he's meeting the

Egyptian president and his counterpart the foreign minister discussing a number of issues, not least his grave concerns about what is happening in


And he said, and I quote, "we'll work towards combating these terrorists who want to tear away the rule of law and existing rule of governance." He

has, though, been accused just earlier today by the Iranian supreme leader of -- oh, this is the U.S. -- of trying to put yes men in power in Iraq.

And interestingly, both Tehran and Riyadh in agreement, which is very rare saying that Iraq should sort this out themselves and others shouldn't

mettle or mess.

But can they sort this out on their own?

ROBERTSON: One of the real dangers at the moment is that the sectarian tensions could enflame and that there could be real sectarian violence.

And that the trigger for that could come if ISIS fighters destroy one of the important Shia shrines.

The militias that we've seen on the streets here just yesterday, thousands of men, hundreds of weapons, some of them heavy weapons, showing

essentially a show of force, showing off what they've got.

You know in days gone by when the U.S. military was here five or six years ago, even three years ago, when the tensions rose that high, sectarian

tensions, there were enough diplomats on the ground, enough U.S. military muscle if you will to sort of keep the sides apart and talk them down.

That isn't here today. So there certainly is a sense of regional powers, they don't want the United States in here. They blame the United States

for the situation, in part, that was caused here. They don't like to see any intervention in a country, because one day they fear that it could be

them. It's a bad precedent to be set. I mean, that's a subtext to this as well. It is a proxy fight for Saudi Arabia and Iran, one supporting the

Shias, one supporting the Sunnis.

It's complex. But with nobody here to help move the situation forward, the political situation forward -- and Iran is believed to be here in a certain

capacity influencing the situation -- there is this real risk of sectarian violence.

The United States, what it wants to do is it wants to shore up the Iraqi army. It wants to stop ISIS in its tracks. And then it wants to roll up

ISIS's regional threat and global threat by targeting them more broadly in the region.

ISIS is now seen as a huge threat.

So, the United States's involvement here really has multiple levels as well. Principally at the moment, though, to stabilize this situation,

which is potentially hugely volatile, Becky.

ANDERSON: Nic Robertson is on the ground for you in Baghdad this hour.

Nic, thank you for that.

Still ahead on Connect the World with me, Becky Anderson, more on this battle for Iraq. I'm going to talk exclusively to the Saudi ambassador to

the United Nations about his country's take on the crisis there and answer accusations from Baghdad that the Saudi kingdom is supporting Sunni

militant groups in the country.

Also, Iran's supreme leader weighing in on U.S. military involvement in Iraq, more on what he had to say coming up this hour.

Well, two Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces searching for three missing teenagers. One man was shot in Ramallah, the other was

killed in a raid at a refugee camp in Nabliss (ph).

Now, the Israeli military says that man did not stop after warning shots were fired. Palestinians say he was mentally ill and on his daily walk to

a mosque.

Well, a Palestinian Prisoners Society says Israel has detained 463 Palestinians in this search for three teenage boys. Israel blames Hamas

for the kidnapping, something that that group denies.

Well, these teenagers have been missing for more than nine days. Ben Wedeman is in Jerusalem for you. And at this stage, let's start with the

teenagers and move on to the death on the streets as it were.

Any signs at this point that the Israelis have any further clues as to where these boys are?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No sign at this point, Becky. They've been searching now for 10 days. Initially, the search

focused on the area around Hebron in the southern west bank. It spread throughout the entire area. What we've seen is the largest Israeli

military operation in the West Bank since 2002.

We've heard repeatedly from Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that they believe Hamas is behind the kidnapping.

They've promised to show some sort of evidence of that. But we've seen nothing yet. And this operation is intensifying.

Israeli officials have made it clear that this is a two-pronged operation. One focused on finding the three Israeli teenagers who have been missing

since the 12th of June. The other prong is trying to break Hamas in the West Bank.

So we've seen overnight these clashes in Ramallah and Nabliss (ph). At this point, four Palestinians have been killed by Israeli gunfire since

this operation began, one died as a result of a heart attack when Israeli forces entered his home.

So the tension is rising, but there seems to be no end in sight until these three teenagers are found -- Becky.

ANDERSON: Ben Wedeman for you.

And we will talk to Mark Regev (ph) who is a spokesman for the Israeli government, put some of those concerns that Ben has been expressing to him

just a little bit later in this show. The latest from there.

Now still to come this evening, after a trip to mafia territory in southern Italy, Pope Francis ex-communicates mobsters from the Roman Catholic


And, as ISIS advances towards Baghdad, a look at what regional powers are considering. Up next, we speak exclusively to the Saudi ambassador to the

United Nations. Hear what he's got to say after this.


ANDERSON: This is CNN and Connect the World with me, Becky Anderson. Welcome back.

The very latest on Iraq. The big story in the region. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called on the country to rise above sectarian motivations

and form a government that represents all of its people.

Kerry made those comments just moments ago after meeting Egyptian officials in Cairo. He also said the Sunni militant group ISIS, or ISIL, not only

threatens Iraq, but the entire region as well.

Well, Iran's supreme leader has spoken out against any U.S. involvement in Iraq. The Iranian media quoting Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as saying his

country, and I quote, "strong opposes U.S. military action in Iraq." They go on to say, "the Supreme Leader believes the government and religious

authority in Iraq have to put an end to this fire."

But remember, American military advisers are already on their way to Baghdad. A small group will arrive shortly with Washington sending a total

of 300 advisers as far as we understand.

Now here's something, Saudi Arabia agreeing with Iran. the kingdom's ambassador to the UK wrote just this week that "any government that meddles

in Iraq's affairs runs the risk of escalating the situation creating greater mistrust between of Iraq, both Sunni and Shia."

Well, joining me now for an exclusive interview on the subject is the Saudi Ambassador to the United Nations, Abdallah al-Mouallimi joins me now live

from New York.

Sir, thank you. Rare agreement between Tehran and Riyadh. Don't mess in Iraq appears to be the narrative from both Tehran and Riyadh. The point,

though, surely is that this isn't just Iraq's problem. And Baghdad isn't coping to sort it out on its own, is it?

ABDALLAH AL-MOUALLIMI: Well, helping the Iraqis rise above the sectarian divide is an important mission for everybody who can provide such

assistance. When we say that nobody should interfere in the internal affairs of Iraq, we specifically include Iran in that regard, because any

interference on the pat of Iran in favor of one side over the other would only enflame the situation even further.

ANDERSON: Let's talk about where Iraq stands on this and then where you stand on Iraq. This week, the Iraqi prime minister accused Saudi of

backing ISIS militants. And I quote, he said, "the Saudi government must bear responsibility for the serious crimes committed by these groups."

Your response to that.

AL-MOUALLIMI: This is a reckless statement by somebody who has been the main factor in establishing the sectarian divide in Iraq. It is almost

funny if it were not serious, because Saudi Arabia is at the forefront of combating terrorism. Saudi Arabia is one of the few countries that have

declared ISIS as a terrorist organization and has specifically declared, prohibited any assistance that can be provided by anybody to ISIS.

So coming from Mr. Maliki, that's very ironic.

ANDERSON: With respect, it is no secret, though, that Riyadh has been a backer of Syria's rebels, some of whom may have joined ISIS, or ISIL as

some know it. How concerned are you that Riyadh even by default is supporting this -- these militia or uprising as it were?

AL-MOUALLIMI: No. We have a very clear stand against the terrorist organizations including ISIS, including Jabhat al Nusra and others. And we

are extremely careful in terms of whatever support that we provide that it must be directed to the Syrian people and not to the terrorist


Any allegations to the contrary are simply misleading and are intended to confuse the situation and distract attention from the main reasons for

that. We have just seen yesterday and the day before the sectarian militias demonstrating in Iraq in what you described as a show of force.

This cannot possibly be helpful in a situation like this. This is inflammatory. It is a product of the rhetoric that the Baghdad government

has been using over the past several years. It has demonstrated to the world that this government has not been able -- and this leadership has not

been able to be a unifying force in Iraq.

ANDERSON: Right. And yet your government says, Riyadh says, don't meddle, don't mess, this is an Iraqi problem. Let Iraq sort it out for itself. I

put it to you again, it seems Iraq is uncapable of doing that, or incapable of doing that. And meanwhile, there seems to be an ever growing and wider

threat to the region. Do you buy that?

AL-MOUALLIMI: Well, we're saying don't meddle as in military intervention, because we think that that could only complicate matters. But it is the

responsibility of Iraq's friends, particularly the Arab community, the League of Arab States, and the neighboring Arab countries to help Iraq

politically to overcome this crisis.

Now Saudi Arabia several years ago has offered to host a conference in Saudi Arabia that would encompass all segments of Iraqi society along the

lines of the Taif (ph) conference that ended the civil war in Lebanon. That offer still stands. And we will stand ready to provide any political

assistance to the Iraqis.

But military intervention is not going to facilitate the matter.

ANDERSON: Well, a change of government, of course, many would say would suit Riyadh more certainly than it would suit Iran given that this is a

Shia led government.

Let me just read our viewers a quote from what your foreign minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said just recently. He told a conference of regional

leaders in Jeddah, "this grave situation carries with it signs of civil war that has implications for the region that we cannot fathom."

Just how bad do you believe things could get. And where are Riyadh's red lines, as it were, before it believes that it should get involved in what

is a roiling regional issue?

AL-MOUALLIMI: Let me start by correcting a little thing you just said. You said a change of government would suit Riyadh. A change of government

would suit the Iraqi people. And that should be our concern. A government in Iraq should not be there in order to suit Riyadh or Tehran.

Secondly, how bad could it get? It could get very, very bad, of course, it could get very ugly. If we see these kind of demonstrations, these kinds

of militias, if the Iraqi people are further divided along sectarian lines, it could be -- it could be very, very bad.

As far as we are concerned, we have no red lines with regard to military intervention, but our red line with regard to Iraq is the unity and

sanctity of the Iraqi nation, the Arab nature of this country, and the multicultural, multi-sector -- multi-ethnic and religious sects that it has

always been.

ANDERSON: If ISIS's aim is to dismantle existing borders among Sunni states and demolish what are prevailing power structures, waging a

regional, if not global jihad, I guess you would agree with me that it is understandable that other international and regional leaders are getting

involved here, at least so far as the narrative is concerned.

What will Riyadh do to prevent this spill from Iraq and Syria at present? And what is your message this hour tonight given what Kerry has been saying

in Cairo to the United States?

AL-MOUALLIMI: Well, to start with I think that the ISIS threat has been overrated by virtue of the fact that this threat would not have been as

forceful as it is without the sense of deprivation without the sense of disenfranchisement that the Sunni population in Iraq has been feeling.

There is no way that a few thousand fighters could have overrun a big city like Mosul or other cities if there was no ground -- fertile ground of

discontent already there that had helped these people move forward.

So the issue is not the ISIS threat, per se, that can be dealt with if you eliminate the fertile ground of discrimination and disenfranchisement and

marginalization that the Sunni population in Iraq and others -- not only the Sunnis -- have been feeling from the Iraqi government.

Our message to the United States, we support the statement of Mr. Kerry. There has to be a government of national unity in Iraq, there has to be a

leadership that rises to the level of the challenges at the moment. The government should not be a facade for a victorious faction whoever that

faction might be. We should not be in a situation in which we see the prime minister of Iraq demonstrate his loyalty to his sect above his

loyalty to his nation.

ANDERSON: And with that, we're going to leave it there. So we do appreciate your time. I know you're a very busy man. Thank you very much

indeed for joining us here on Connect the World with me, Becky Anderson.

Live from Abu Dhabi for you. We're going to take a very break.

Thank you, sir.

On a visit to southern Italy -- up next, Pope Francis condemns the local mafia with his strongest words yet. What he had to say after this.


ANDERSON: Right, you're back with us here on CNN. Pope Francis is excommunicating members of the Italian mafia from the Roman Catholic

Church. Delia Gallagher joining us now from Rome with what is quite a remarkable story.

Why is this important? What does it mean?

DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN VATICAN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Becky, excommunication is a word that will resound very loudly in southern Italy. It is important

that the pope said it, said it in the heartland of the mafia area there.

What it means essentially, Becky, is not so much for the individual mafia member who, frankly, might not be losing too much sleep over it, but it is

a message to the community. These communities live between the Catholic church on the one hand and the mafia on the other. Priests and bishops in

these communities are very important figures.

There was a Calabrian priest on Italian television yesterday and he was saying these are small towns, 3,000, 5,000 inhabitants. Everybody knows

who the mafia is there. And what these men tried to do is gain credibility with the local people by participating in religious processions, by going

to mass, by trying to show themselves as upstanding Catholic religious men.

So when the pope says no, actually, you're not part of this club. We are distancing ourselves from you, he's sending a message to the community to

say, I'm distancing myself, you can too.

These are areas, Becky, that also suffer from very high unemployment. And that is one of the key issues for the pope, that the youth there will not

succumb to the temptation of the mafia to offer them jobs and so on, but will have the courage to say no as the pope did -- Becky.

ANDERSON: Delia Gallagher in Rome for you this evening. Delia, thank you.

The latest world news headlines are just ahead, as you would imagine here on CNN at the bottom of the hour. Plus, Palestinians and the Israeli

military going head to head as Israel searches for three missing teenagers. We're going to talk to the spokesman for Israel's prime minister up after



ANDERSON: This is Connect the world. Welcome back. The top stories for you this hour on CNN.

Iraqi officials say that the Sunni militant group ISIS now controls more than 70 percent of the western Anbar Province on the border with Syria.

The Iraqi military says it's conducting, quote, strategic withdrawals in some areas.

South Korean troops are in a standoff with an Army sergeant suspected of killing five of his fellow soldiers. Troops have exchanged gunfire with

the suspect. The killings taking place near a military outpost close to what is the demilitarized zone.

Two Palestinians were shot and killed by Israeli troops who are searching for three missing Israeli teenagers. Palestinians say one of the men was

mentally ill. The Israeli military says he falied to heed warning shots.

Those teenagers have now been missing for more than nine days and hundreds of Palestinians have been detained in the search for them.

Mark Regev is an Israeli government spokesman. I'm going to talk to him now about the search for the boys.

A huge military operation, Mark. What indications do you have of where these teenagers might be. And if, indeed, they are still alive.

MARK REGEV, ISRAELI GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN: Well, the operation continues, which means we don't have conclusive answers yet to those questions. We're

going in a very exhaustive operation to try to locate those three teens who were kidnapped on their way home from school.

We know that Hamas was responsible. So as part of the search operation we're asking against the Hamas military machine to arrest its activists, to

interrogate them, to find any lead we can to try to locate those three young men.

ANDERSON: Heartbreaking for their relatives, of course Mark. Heartbreaking, too, for the families of the hundreds of Palestinians

detained and killed in the hunt, of course, for these teenagers.

The Israeli government accusing Hamas of this kidnapping. What evidence is there to suggest that indeed that group is behind this action?

REGEV: Well, the kidnapping took place Thursday night. And only on Sunday morning did we say unequivocally is was Hamas because we wanted to be sure.

And we wouldn't have said it without being sure. We have specific intelligence information, information that we're sharing with some

governments and information that we believe we will shortly be allowed to make be -- make being public.

It's clear that Hamas is involved in this operation. Hamas, as you know, has a history of involvement in this sort of kidnappings and murders. They

said -- and they've praised these sort of kidnappings in the past. And we have no doubt that it's them.

ANDERSON: Can I ask you why you're not sharing that evidence or information at this stage?

REGEV: We think a premature release of too much information would inhibit the ongoing effort to try to locate those three kidnapped teenagers.

ANDERSON: Well, here's what the Palestinian Liberation Organization said about the Israeli raids to find these missing teens.

Mark, I want you to respond to this. And I quote, "Israel's decision to conduct a wide military operation following the disappearance of three

Israeli settlers through indiscriminate attacks and collective punishment will only contribute to further fueling the conflict."

Your response?

REGEV: Well, the reason we're in this situation in the first place is of course because Hamas kidnapped those three young boys on their way home

from school. And that's why we are trying to find them. We're trying to bring them home. That's the goal of the government.

Now we don't want friction with the Palestinian population of the West Bank. On the contrary, we want to have peace with the Palestinians. But

it is our obligation as a government to do everything that we can to try to bring those three boys home. And I'd ask the Palestinian side -- I mean,

what would you expect us to do? And I'd ask them also, are you doing everything you can on the Palestinian side to try to locate those boys and

bring them home. That's your obligation under the different treaties.

ANDERSON: Let's just interrogate a couple of things here.

You've detained 22 Palestinian Authority parliamentarians I know during this crackdown. Are they suspected of being party to this kidnapping?

REGEV: We have -- we're acting against the Hamas machine to try to get more information on where the boys could be and also to try to cramped down

on a Hamas, which as you know, Hamas is openly that Israel should be destroyed. Hamas is openly that every Israeli civilian is, in their eyes,

a legitimate target for their terrorist attacks, for kidnapping and murder. So in acting against Hamas today, we're also acting to protect our own

people. So that is legitimate self-defense.

I'd remind you and the viewers, Becky, that Hamas is a terrorist organization not only Israeli law alone, but under American law, Canadian

law, European law, Japanese law, Australian law, all those countries officially designates Hamas as a terrorist organization. So in acting

against Hamas this is justified counterterrorism, justified self-defense. We're acting to protect our people.

ANDERSON: I wonder how much, though, this bothers the Israeli government that many people will say this has all the hallmarks of a crackdown on

Hamas rather than a genuine search for these three missing teenagers.

It's certainly been said across media all over the world.

REGEV: Our overwhelming -- our overwhelming goal is to bring home those three kidnapped teens. At the same time, we are acting against Hamas, and

justifiably so.

I mean, I'd remind you that Hamas says openly that every Israeli civilian is a legitimate target, even children as we've seen in this example. So of

course we have the right to act against Hamas until Hamas changes its policies and stops targeting Israeli civilians.

ANDERSON: Mark Regev on behalf of the Israeli government. Thank you, sir.

The World Cup certainly lived up to its hype on Saturday. It began with this game -- winning goal by Argentina's super striker Lionel Messi that

broke a scoreless deadlock with Iran. In the day's surprising second match, Germany had its hands full with Ghana finally battling to a draw.

And in the finally, the Super Eagles of Nigeria won their first World Cup final match in 16 years, knocking Bosnia-Herzegovina out of the tournament.

So, moving on to today's matches, it is Sunday. Belgium looking to take control of Group H with a win against Russia, that game at the top of the


The other Group H match will see South Korea taking on Algeria. The North African side will be trying to bounce back from last week's loss to

Belgium. They play at 1600 local time.

And in an intriguing Group G fixture, the U.S. facing Portugal's Christiano Ronaldo as well as the tropical heat in Manaus. Team USA can advance to

the knockout stage with a win. That match starts at 18:00 local time.

Well, let's go to Rio where our Isa Soares is standing by outside the Maracana Stadium where Belgium and Russia will kickoff at the top of the


I know you're going to keep one eye a little bit later on in the -- on the Portugal match as well. You're a big fan.

Let's get a sense of the atmosphere, though, where you are ahead of this first game.


Well, up here, we are about 20 so minutes before the kickoff of this game, Belgium versus Russia. The fans really streaming out really loud, even

early this morning at breakfast the lift up and down their all screaming. Lots of Belgium fans, lots of police presence, too. It's a great match

here in the stadium behind me at the Maracana. Belgium leading the group at this stage.

They haven't been that impressive, though, to many if you consider that many of their players play in top European leagues against Russia majority

of players playing in the Russian leagues. But many people thought they weren't very impressive against Algeria. They obviously did win, but many

hoping to see this golden generation of players really coming to the forefront, Becky.

So, kickoff in about 20 minutes. I've got my eye on that.

And my other eye, of course, as you mentioned, will be on the USA versus Portugal match. They'll be playing in Manaus, tropical heat. We've got a

few players that are injured. Many people asking me what we think -- what they think my hopes are for this game.

If you look at the statistics, though, Becky. They've played five times, USA-Portugal. Portugal has won twice, USA has won twice and they've

basically drew once. The last two games, however, it was the USA that won. So on paper, we've got a very good chance. But the USA have proven against

Ghana they are very strong indeed.

The other problem we have in the Portugal team is that we have so many injuries. We've got Coentrau, who we've lost. He was a defender. He's

already out. Two other players who are out. And then we've got Christiano Ronaldo that everyone is speaking about. Will he or won't he be playing in

today's match?

Today's newspaper in Portugal, it's called Abola, the main newspaper, they had a photo of Ronaldo with the words yes we can. So, many hoping here for

what will be no doubt a thrilling match.

LU STOUT: Yes, we can. Invoking memories of the 2008 election campaign by Mr. Barack Obama himself.

The Portuguese of course against the USA this evening.

You can be completely partisan when it comes to the World Cup. So the we this and we that is perfectly fine as far as I'm concerned here.

SOARES: Absolutely. I mean, there's no point in fighting it, Becky.


ANDERSON: Clearly, I can't be partisan anymore, because my team is going home.

Moving on...

SOARES: Becky, I'm sorry.

ANDERSON: Thank you.

A draw and loss, Iranian fans are gathering in Tehran to support their team, men and women there normally have to watch matches separately. But

as Reza Sayah reports, that isn't stopping some from sharing their experience together.


REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Inside a Tehran cafe, World Cup excitement reaches a fever pitch as team Iran goes toe to toe with

South American powerhouse Argentina.

At the end of 90 minutes, the score tied, the crowd in a frenzy.

But lost in the excitement is something you rarely see here in the Islamic Republic.

Women, side by side with men delighting in the thrill of sports together in public.

"100 percent it's better this way," says Negar Volayi (ph). "It doesn't happen often. It would be great if we have more of this."

ROYA MARZBAHAN, IRANIAN FOOTBALL FAN: It's actually much better to watch with a bunch of people around you because it makes you be more excited.

SAYAH: After Iran's Islamic revolution in 1979, the government banned women from entering sporting events. Mixed crowds enjoying games was

unIslamic authorities said.

This was the outcome, no female fans at men's games for more than three decades.

In an apparent effort to avoid mixed crowds watching this year's World Cup, authorities warned restaurants not to broadcast games. Other measures are

more subtle. Women don't appear on World Cup billboards. And during matches, state TV censors images of female fans deemed too racy for


But Iran is a country full of contradictions. Where conservative social norms often clash with a young defiant fun-loving population that demands


"We have rights, too," says Negar. "We should be able to go to games."

MARZBAHAN: It isn't right. They're taking our rights, actually. To be honest with you it's all right to watch our team.

SAYAH: This month's state media reported several Iranian women snuck into a men's volleyball match in Tehran disguised as Brazilian fans. Others

protested outside the match. And several cafes have ignored the ban on broadcasting World Cup games.

But perhaps the best sign of Iranian women's pent up yearning for equal rights came after Argentina's Lionel Messi scored a late goal to beat Iran.

Men and women celebrated in the streets of Tehran.

This is the reaction after a loss, imagine if they would have won.

As crowds grew, security forces arrived on scene and urged fans to go home. Convincing Iranian women to end their demand to attend sporting events may

not be as easy.

Reza Sayah, CNN, Tehran.


ANDERSON: Well, more viewers worldwide are watching the World Cup than ever before. The stats and a lot more at

I'm Becky Anderson, and that was Connect the World. Thank you for watching. Marketplace Middle East is next. I'll be back with the

headlines at the top of the hour.