He is the middle child of two teachers, Kadim and Naghada, who, before locking eyes in a language classroom in Sweden, fled war-torn Iraq in the 1990s. Their children were born in Sweden and raised in Linköping, a metro area of 165,000 with a significant immigrant population.
They learned Swedish and English and embraced the local culture. At home, they spoke Arabic and continued family traditions that began in the north of Iraq (mother’s family) and south (father’s side). His parents, Jeahze said, don’t like to talk about the past.
Jeahze (pronounced Ja-haz) was classmates and teammates with Syrians, Afghans and Somalis — the first generations from families who had fled the unrest to make better lives for themselves and their children.
“For me, it was the perfect mix,” Jeahze said. “We met people from everywhere.”
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His football career flourished and he was invited to the Swedish national youth teams. It is not unusual for players from immigrant families to represent Sweden. The most famous is Zlatan Ibrahimović, the superstar striker whose parents emigrated from Yugoslavia.
Jeahze’s Iraqi team-mate Amir Al-Ammari followed a similar path to Jeahze’s, playing for Sweden’s under-19 side before committing to Iraq, his father’s homeland.
Jeahze is proud of his multicultural background and upbringing. In his heart, he said: “I feel both Swedish and Iraqi.”
“In my head, I’m from Iraq, but everything I learn is from Sweden: school, football, everything,” he continued. “I still see myself as Swedish. When people ask, I say I was born here, but my parents are from Iraq.”
Jeahze’s road to the Swedish senior national team took longer than he expected. Coaches told him he was close to a call-up, but after a few years, “I was close for a long time,” he said.
Aware of Jeahze’s roots, Iraqi football officials had been in regular contact. In 2021, he committed to a program that, like the country, had been ravaged by war.
“Football is important in Sweden,” he said, “but when I play for Iraq, I see how much it means to people.”
At the start of his tenure in Iraq, Jeahze felt he had to prove himself both on and off the field. “It seemed to me that some of them were thinking: ‘You’ve been lucky all your life in Sweden. Nothing will be easy for you here,” he said. “There was nothing I could do about it. Maybe they didn’t think I was as Iraqi as they were.”
Jeahze started three 2022 World Cup qualifiers and came off the bench in the fourth. Intermittently banned by FIFA from playing home games due to security concerns, Iraq hosted most of the qualifiers in Qatar.
“That first match [against Syria]I was really proud, but if there were fans there, it would be better,” he said. “I was thinking about my family and how proud they are.”
Iraq did not qualify, finishing fourth in a six-nation group in the final round of the Asian confederation’s competition. The country’s only World Cup appearance came in 1986. Represented by the under-23 team, the Olympic team was a semi-finalist at the 2004 Summer Games in Athens.
This winter Iraq hosted an international tournament for the first time in more than 40 years, winning the Arabian Gulf Cup for the first time since 1988. Because he was going through the US work visa process, Jeahze was not in the team.
Before joining United, he played 2½ seasons for Hammarby, who finished third in the top division in 2022. Last summer, Jeahze looked set for a move to Scotland (Celtic) or Turkey (Beshiktas). The talks stalled. In the fall, United began a serious pursuit.
Assistant coach Pete Shuttleworth attended Hammarby games and reported to Rooney and the coaching staff. United paid a transfer fee of around $750,000 and signed him until 2025, with a club option in ’26.
“Pete thought he fit into our system,” manager Wayne Rooney said. “He is a very good footballer on the ball, very good left foot, comfortable attack”.
In the training camp, Jeahze has stayed with Icelandic midfielder Victor Palsson, who thanks to a season with a Swedish club, speaks Swedish. To help ease Jeahze’s transition, Palsson engages with him in Swedish.
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Palsson is on his second MLS tour after playing for the New York Red Bulls in 2012. Until a few weeks ago, Jeahze had never been to the United States. Asked if he has introduced Jeahze to anything new in America, Palsson said: “I’m just trying to introduce him to salad at the moment because he needs to be in shape.”
Rooney has put a lot of emphasis on fitness. Jeahze, who in DC’s system will have to run down the left wing and join the attack, is a little behind.
“I told him that he needs to work in the gym. He knows that,” Rooney said. “We’re pushing it.”
With the season opener against Toronto FC 4 1/2 weeks away, Jeahze knows he needs to make strides. United will play four games at the Coachella Valley Invitational, starting Wednesday against Charlotte FC (a 90-minute game) and the Vancouver Whitecaps (45 minutes).
“When DC showed interest, I thought this could be good,” Jeahze said. “I got here. I like it here. Now I have to keep working and show the club that they made the right decision.”