JAPAN'S Ambassador conquers Iraqi hearts and minds.

While foreign diplomats often struggle to win over ordinary Iraqis, Japan's departing ambassador has stolen hearts - thanks to witty social media videos in classical Arabic and local dialects.

Fumio Iwai has been in post in Baghdad for less than three years, but his fan reaches far beyond the heavily fortified walls of the diplomatic Green Zone.

Hundreds and thousands have been reeled in by humble charm.

"And never more so than when the bespectacled and wiry ambassador recorded a missive wearing an Iraqi football jersey ahead of a potentially divisive World Cup qualifier. The opponents? Japan.

Iraqi civil servant Haydar AI-Banna remembers this dispatch by Iwai - in June last year, since by watch by over 730,000 people - fondly.

The Ambassador said "I will be happy if our team [Japan] win, and I will be sad if the Iraqi team loses," recalls 35-year-old Banna.

Moments like this have seen Iraqis claim the diplomat as their own, impressed by his deft navigation of a country still engulfed by chaos 15 years after the US-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussain.

"We say he is an Iraqi - he is like someone who has lived here for 50 years," Banna says. Iwai's journey in the Arab world began 30 years ago, on his bosses orders.

" The Japanese foreign ministry ordered me to learn Arabic," the 57-year-old tells AFP.

The young diplomat spent two years in Egypt, living with a family and immersing himself in the language.

"Iwai says Arabic is "one the most difficult [tongues] in the world, because of the vast number of words and expressions."

Three decades on, he claims, he is still  "at the start of the road," in his efforts to master the language.


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