FIFA lifts 28yr ban on Iraq international friendlies in place since Saddam invasion
A US-led invasion toppled Saddam in 2003, but the ban has stayed in place due to uncertainty and instability in the country which has battles civil war as well as IS occupation in parts of the north and west from 2014 until last year.
At a press conference during a FIFA Council meeting in Bogota, Colombia, over the weekend, FIFA president Gianni Infantino said that the cities of Erbil, Basra and Karbala had been passed fit to host friendlies. Infantino added the right to hold matches in its conflict-ravaged capital, Baghdad, remained under review.
“Iraq we decided today...that in the three cities in which we tested for one year almost friendly matches: Erbil, Basra and... Karbala, international matches will be allowed to play as far as FIFA is concerned,” Infantino said.
“Obviously the competition organizer – in this case the [Asian Football Confederation] AFC – would obviously have to take their own decision in this respect as well, but for FIFA it will be fine.
“We received also a request to play friendly matches in Baghdad. This request was not accepted by the [FIFA] Council yet. The situation will still need to be monitored a little bit. The request, to be fair, came in very, very late,” he added.
My thanks & gratitude to the President of the Russian Football Union Mr. Vitaly Mutko for his support to #Iraq in yesterday’s #FIFA meeting in the Columbian capital #Bogota where the ban on international football games lifted in #Arbil, #Basra & #Karbala. #Iraq_Russiapic.twitter.com/oJNVoJJ4BG— Haidar M Hadi (@HaidarHadi) March 17, 2018
The decision followed a successful friendly between Iraq and Saudi Arabia on February 28 at Basra Sport City Stadium, the first on Iraqi soil for more than 40 years. The home side ran out 4-1 winners against the World Cup qualifiers, who will kick off this summer’s tournament by playing host country Russia on June 14 at Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow.
The decision to lift the ban was welcomed by Iraqi football fans and AFC President Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa, who was a notable campaigner for lifting the ban after the match with Saudi Arabia.
Great news for Iraq football fans! The lifting of the stadium ban by FIFA will open the doors for sports diplomacy ! Another important step for the return to normal life after so many years of conflict— Ramon Blecua (@EUAmbIraq) March 19, 2018
“This is a significant moment in shaping the future of football in Iraq,” he said in a statement. “I congratulate the Iraqi Football Association and all their stakeholders in working so hard to achieve this positive outcome for the game in their country.
“Football development in Iraq can only be benefited by the ability of Iraqi football lovers to see matches played on their own soil and to become involved in the game at every level,” he added.
The first official international game in Iraq after lifting the ban on our stadiums will be between My beloved club “Al-Zawraa” and the Bahraini side “Al-Manama” at Karbala stadium in the AFC Cup 2018.Come on you gulls! #رفع_الحظر_عن_الملاعب_العراقيهpic.twitter.com/HUsSeDDpCs— Sajjad Lattef 🅥 (@sajjad_lattef) March 16, 2018
This is not Allianz Arena stadium and Santiago Bernabeu and camp nou, here Basra Stadium in Iraq. game to lift the ban on our stadiums We are waiting for the decision of @FIFAcom@email@example.com/x8Zxj0PfkX— des_ahmed (@ahmed_des95) February 28, 2018
FIFA imposed a ban on international matches upon the Iraqi invasion of neighboring Kuwait, a two-day operation that instigated what became known as the Gulf War under former leader Saddam.
The ban was briefly lifted in 2012 and allowed for a friendly match between Iraq and Jordan, but a power outage during the game led to its reinstatement. During the ban, Iraq played friendly matches in Iran, Jordan or Qatar.