Iraq to play WCup qualifier after FIFA lift ban
Saturday, 31 May 2008

Soccer posters for sale in BaghdadAFP, SYDNEY - Iraq's World Cup qualifier with Australia will go ahead this weekend after football's world governing body FIFA on Thursday "provisionally and conditionally" lifted its 12-month ban on Iraq taking part in international competition.

Sunday's match in Brisbane had been under threat after FIFA suspended Iraq following an Iraqi governmental decree last week dissolving the Iraqi National Olympic Committee (NOC) and all national sport federations.

A FIFA spokesman said that it had received correspondence from the Iraqi government confirming the Iraq Football Association (IFA) was not part of its decree.

The Iraqi government said it had never sacked the football federation and that it was also not covered by the "resolution 184" that dissolved the NOC and sparked the controversy.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter said to warm applause from delegates at the opening ceremony of the FIFA Congress here Thursday that Sunday's match will now proceed as scheduled.

FIFA welcomed the letter from the Iraqi government confirming the IFA was exempted from the decree.

"The FIFA Emergency Committee has today decided to provisionally and conditionally lift the suspension imposed on the Iraq Football Association on May 26 due to serious government interference," the spokesman said, reading from a statement.

"This letter is a positive step, however it does not fully answer all of FIFA's concerns about the governmental attempts to control the Iraqi federations and the Iraqi National Olympic Committee," it said.

FIFA warned Iraq that it may immediately re-impose the suspension if the relevant article of the FIFA Statutes was violated again.

The statement said FIFA will invite a delegation consisting of the Asian Football Confederation, the IFA and representatives of the Iraqi government to Zurich as soon as possible to clarify all outstanding issues.

FIFA had warned it would suspend Iraq, the reigning Asian champions, from international competition for 12 months unless Baghdad reinstated the IFA by 1400 GMT on Thursday.

Blatter had warned that Iraq must back down from "political interference" in its national football federation so the team could play their make-or-break World Cup qualifier.

AFC President Mohamed Bin Hammam welcomed the Iraqi government's move to clarify its position with the IFA and urged the Iraqi team to now focus on its crucial game.

"Now, the World Cup game can go on, which is what the AFC, both teams and fans wanted," Bin Hammam said in a statement.

"I appeal to the Iraqi team to put the past behind and focus on the important match ahead."

Australia lead their group, which also includes China and Qatar, with four points from two matches.

Iraq have just one and are bottom of the pool and must salvage at least a point to keep their hopes alive of advancing to the next stage of Asian World Cup qualifying.

Football Federation Australia (FFA) chief Ben Buckley, whose organisation faced significant financial loss if the Brisbane game was cancelled, said the development was "great news."

"We're truly delighted that the Iraqi government, the IFA and FIFA have sorted out the issues between them and the Socceroos and Iraq can get on the field to play this important World Cup qualifying match on Sunday," he said.
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