The Iranians stormed back from a goal down to beat their archrivals and defending champions and now top Group D after the North Koreans and UAE fought out a 0-0 stalemate.
Iman Mobali was the hero for Iran, his free-kick drifting in with six minutes left for an emotional win that followed a period of silence ahead of the game to honour 77 people who died on Sunday in an Iran plane crash.
After that sombre moment at Al-Rayyan Stadium, the game between the two countries burst to life. Iraqi talisman Younis Mahmoud stunned Iran with the opener, sliding in at the far post on 13 minutes to score from close range after Emad Mohammed had cleverly nodded the ball back across goal.
It sparked the three-time champions into life and the equalisier came on 42 minutes after former Bolton Wanderers man Andranik Teymourian chipped the ball cleverly through to an unmarked Gholam Reza Rezai.
Rezai, who had just stayed onside, duly rifled the ball in for a leveller they fully deserved before Mobali's late intervention to get the winner and break Iraqi hearts. Iraq now have their work cut out if they want to defend the title they won against the odds in 2007, with games against UAE on Saturday before a potential must-win encounter with Korea DPR four days later.
UAE and North Korea couldn't find the net in their clash, but not for want of trying. The Koreans, who reached the FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa but lost all three games, withstood a barrage of UAE pressure throughout the 90 minutes at the Qatar Sports Club Stadium.
After North Korean captain Hong Yong-Jo squandered an early penalty, the UAE gradually shifted into top gear, attacking a disorganised Korean team relentlessly. All told, the Gulf side fired off 23 shots, including five on goal, against six for the Koreans.
Korea DPR, the 1980 Asian Cup semi-finalists, who are back on the continental stage for the first time since 1992, barely reached the UAE's penalty area, leaving Japan-born striker Jong Tae-Se helpless up front.
"We didn't play well. It was our first match and the players showed about 80 percent of their skills," North Korea coach Jo Tong-Sop said. "After failing the penalty shot, it became psychologically tough for our players as they became nervous," added the 51-year-old, who took over from his former boss Kim Jong-Hun after the World Cup.
UAE coach Srecko Katanec was more upbeat about his team's performance. "I'm satisfied with the way we played. The players showed their character and some nice skills," he said. "They created a lot of chances but we did not score. It was a problem," added the 47-year-old Slovenian tactician, who led his home country to Euro 2000 and the 2002 World Cup and took the UAE job in mid-2009.
"If the Koreans hadn't missed the penalty, the game could have been different," he said. "I'd like to see our team play like this in the next two games."
The Asian Cup features 16 regional teams and ends with the final on 29 January.