Monday, May 26, 2008

The Iraq Situation

On Monday May 26, 2008, FIFA suspended Iraq from all international competitions for at least year. This decision comes in the wake of the Iraq government's May 20, 2008 decision to dissolve the Iraqi National Olympic Committee (INOC) and all national sports federations, possibly including the Iraqi Football Association (IFA). However, FIFA has provided the Iraqi government with an escape clause, if the Iraq government annulls or reverses the May 20th decision by midnight Sydney, Australia time on May 29, 2008, then FIFA will lift the suspension.

With the upcoming 2010 World Cup, this suspension could seriously destroy the Asian Cup Champions' chances of making it to South Africa. As it stands, Iraq has World Cup Qualifying matches scheduled against Australia this coming Sunday and then against Dubai next week.

At this point, the Iraqi government appears to have no desire to reverse the May 20th decision.

It appears that the heart of this standoff may come down to either a misinterpretation of the May 20th decision or a miscommunication between FIFA and the Iraq government. Iraqi Sports Minister Jasem Mohammed Jaafar has been quoted as stating that the May 20th decision did not cover the country's soccer federation.

However, the IFA's assistant secretary, Tariq Ahmed, has stated that the government has not informed the IFA that it was exempt from the May 20th decision.

In addition to the FIFA ban, because the May 20th decision encompassed the INOC, at this point Iraq will not be allowed to participate in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Bejing, China.

Hope may be found in the fact that Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi has openly urged President Talabani to step in and urge the reversal of the May 20th decision.

This decision comes 3 months before upcoming elections, and the decision also apparently established a temporary committee with full power to hold the elections and prepare a new law for the Olympic committee. The official reason for this action is that the Iraqi government was concerned that the committee, which should consist of 11 members, lacks legitimacy because it does not have a quorum. Committee chairman, Ahmed al-Hijiya, and three other committee members were kidnapped and have not been released. Subsequently, two other members resigned.

One of the first organizations to condem the May 20th decision was the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), whose president, Mohammed bin Hamman, was quick to state that the Iraqi government had no right to disband what is a body controlled by democratically elected officials. The AFC, it appears, refuses to work with the temporary committee.

This is an issue that Americans need to take notice of - sports in general, and soccer in particular, has been one of the few things that has unified Iraqis since the start of the war and the subsequent civil war and insurgency. If anything, the U.S. government should push the Iraqi government to do more to promote its national sports and atheletes. Iraq's victory in the Asian Cup last year was a major blow in the face of those who want to rip the country to shreds, a balkanized country in the heart of the Middle East. Sports unifies people on a national level, that lifts them above politics and religion, it is an important factor in creating a peaceful Iraq.;_ylt=AsKLLOn_8vTZGR4KmA5WvvELewgF,21985,23764715-11088,00.html,19528,12010_3613060,00.html

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