- Associated Press - Monday, August 2, 2010

ZURICH (AP) — FIFA gave Iraq football officials an extra year in office to prepare for elections, after a sectarian dispute meant the federation missed a deadline to vote for new leaders.

Monday’s decision lifts the threat of Iraq being suspended from world football and allows the national team to prepare to defend its Asian Cup title next January.

“This is the best solution to be adopted,” Iraqi Football Association secretary general Tariq Ahmed told the Associated Press. “We have many activities to take part in. If sanctions had been taken, all these rights will be gone.”

FIFA’s emergency committee — comprising president Sepp Blatter and leaders of the six continental confederations — extended the mandate of the Iraqi federation executive through July 2011.

“This deadline should allow both groups to settle their differences and to thus permit the election of a new board,” FIFA said in a statement.

A scheduled poll was canceled last month when a Sunni faction supporting current IFA president Hussein Saeed met in Irbil, claiming it was too dangerous to travel to Baghdad, where backers of Shiite challenger Falah Hassan had gathered. Iraq’s government insisted on holding it in Baghdad as a way of showing the country is stable after years of war.

FIFA rules prohibit government meddling in football affairs, and a federation’s national team, clubs and officials face suspension from taking part in international matches and meetings even if they are not at fault for the interference.

Iraq’s national team has not played an official match since last November when it began a five-month FIFA suspension after the national Olympic committee tried to disband the football federation.

It has dropped to 104th in the FIFA world rankings after being No. 58 two years ago.

Last month, the IFA signed German coach Wolfgang Sidka to guide it through the Asian Cup, which is to be played in Qatar.

Iraq is scheduled to play friendly matches in September against Yemen and Palestine in Amman, Jordan. It will begin its Asian Cup defense in a group with Iran, North Korea and the United Arab Emirates.

Associated Press writer Hamid Ahmed contributed from Baghdad.


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