ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – FIFA lifted a three-decade long ban on Iraq on Friday, allowing three provinces to host international football matches.
“We are allowing international matches to be staged in the cities of Erbil, Basra, and Karbala,” FIFA president Gianni Infantino told reporters after a meeting of the FIFA Council in Bogota.
He mentioned that the three cities had been allowed last year to host friendly matches, providing the security situation was “stable.”
On March 21, Iraq is set to host Qatar and Syria for one such friendly tournament in Basra.
“FIFA has given the green light for the resumption, but the organizers of the championship must make the final decision,” Infantino stated.
FIFA added that it cannot “yet” agree to a request from the Iraqi authorities to host matches in its capital, Baghdad, but Infantino pledged that the application request of the city would continue to be studied.
Iraq has been building stadiums in recent years and has pressured stars and the governing bodies of sports to help the country return to the international playing field.
FIFA’s Friday decision came after an international friendly match was held between Saudi Arabia and Iraq in Basra on Feb. 28, one of only two played on Iraqi soil in four decades. The only other international match was an unofficial one between Iraq and the Palestinian team which took place in Baghdad's Shaab stadium in the summer of 2009.
The February match was watched by Salman bin Ibrahim al-Khalifa, the head of Asian Football Confederation, who said “the time had come” to end the thirty-year restriction.
Since the invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Iraq has not played full internationals games on home turf.
FIFA’s ban covered all matches but domestic ones and stayed in effect following the 2003 war in Iraq that led to the downfall of the regime of Saddam Hussein.
Editing by John J. Catherine