The Iraq Under-19s team (منتخب التزوير or the fraudulent team)
Iraq has won the Asian Youth Championship, an under 19 competition, on five separate occasions and were only seconds from claiming a sixth title in this year’s competition in Ras Al-Khaima. The youth team’s ‘achievements’ over the past thirty years have been praised and lauded by the Iraqi media and its fanatical football loving fans but the side known as Montakhab Al-Shabab (youth team) is not your typical youth side, it is a youth team only by name. The term youth or shabab is used loosely with some players having known to have represented the team at the age of 26!
The first youth side that the Iraq FA entered into the AFC’s youth championship in 1975 was captained by forward Kadhim Waal. He was one of the Iraqi league’s top strikers and had played for a variety of teams before his club Al-Muwasalat was dissolved and moved onto Iraq’s top club Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya (then known as Al-Tayaran). The interesting thing of note was that Iraq’s captain was born in 1951, making him 24 years old in 1975 and could not have been eligible to play in the AFC Youth Championship, nor was more than 80% of the squad that travelled to Tehran. They were playing on forged documents. Iraq shared the cup after a 0-0 draw with the hosts in the 1975 final. The victory was accredited to the advancement of Iraqi coaching under German trained Thamir Muhsin and Wathiq Naji, graduates of the famous German University of Physical Culture and Sport in Leipzig and the tireless work of the Ministry of Youth. The same was said of Yugoslav coaches Miodrag ‘Abe’ Stankovic and Lenko Grcic and Iraqi coaches Adnan Hamad and Hakim Shaker. But nothing could be further from the truth, it was nothing to do with the training the players received just that they were four or five years older than their opponents, giving them an unfair advantage on the pitch. The following year virtually the same group of players, a year older, took part in the 1976 tournament and were knocked out of the competition in the quarter-finals after a 4-2 penalty shoot-out defeat to North Korea. In 1977, the youth side claimed their most famous victory, beating Iran 4-3 in front of more than 100,000 of their own fans with a last minute back-header from Hussein Saeed. One of the players from that side, midfielder Hadi Al-Janabi was playing in the first division in the Iraqi league in 1970 and retired at the age of 29 in 1983!
Over the years the truth has come out about the age-forgery in the Iraqi junior and youth set-up however the disease of Iraqi youth football continues and is flourishing in today’s game. On Sunday, Humam Tariq, a youth product from Al-Jawiya who was born in 1996, made his international debut against Tunisia at the age of 16, following in the footsteps of Nour Sabri and Nashat Akram. Both players had supposedly had made their debuts for the senior side in their teens however that was later proved to have been a lie. Both players took part in the 2000 Asian Youth Championship, they were the two youngest players in the squad and were only 16 according to their passport and identity papers but today Nour Sabri has the year 1980 written in his passport as his date of birth while Nashat was reportedly born in the same year.
There was some hope that this practise would be halted when Saddam’s regime fell in 2003 but the tazweer-method of shabab football is alive and kicking in today’s FA youth schemes. The current team is evidence of just that. On September 13, 2012, nine players from the youth team preparing to travel to Amman for a friendly tournament, were detained at Baghdad International Airport by security officials after it had been discovered that the players were travelling on forged documents. The nine players were Ahmed Hussein, Mustafa Nadhim, Ali Adnan, Ammar Kadhim, Mohammed Ali, Jawad Kadhim, Karrar Salih, Ali Yasin and one Humam Tariq. The Iraq FA held a meeting with the youth coach Hakim Shaker a week later regarding the issue but six of the nine players took part in the Asian Youth Championship in the UAE two months later and the scandal was swept under the carpet. Everyone in the FA or people close to the organisation know about the age-forgery in the FA’s youth team and it has become an open secret to many of Iraq’s loyal supporters. People speaking out against it are seen to be national traitors or harming the great name of Iraq but the masses should ask themselves what is the real purpose in participating in youth tournaments, is it not to prepare young players for the future or is it to win by any means? Where is the ‘achievement’ in winning a tournament by cheating which is what it is, plain and simple cheating. There is no point in hiding behind the fact that each and every one of Iraq’s five victories in the AFC Youth Championship from 1975 were won with overage players. We Iraqis say that our footballers are different from others and play with gheera (‘Honour’) but where is the honour in lying and cheating?
Why do football nations of the likes of Japan, South Korea and Australia produce successful youth teams and senior sides while our own youth teams win Asian titles but our senior team continuously fails to qualify for World Cups? This blatant cheating is holding the nation back rather than driving it forward. Look at how it has hampered the development of the current national side and its World Cup chances. When Zico took over in August 2011, he thought that the core of the side made up of the victorious 2007 Asian Cup team had an average age of 27 and believed that they could qualify for the 2014 World Cup but after a few months the Brazilian would discover the real ages of majority of the players and the truth was that the average age of the side was nearer the age of 35. Zico would be forced to make wholesome changes to his squad after the decline of the levels of several first team players. Even the current youth team has players that have been playing top flight football in the Iraqi league from the 2009-2010 season while the newly crowned AFC Young Player of the Year Mohanad Abdul-Rahim was playing in the second tier of the Iraqi league for Al-Shabab in 2008-2009 which would mean he was playing first team football at the age of 15! The same applies to Mohammed Hamed, Mustafa Nadhim, Mohammed Jabar Rabat, Saif Salman, Ahmed Abbas, Ammar Abdul-Hussein, Jawad Kadhim and many others.
Under Iraqi law No.111 year 1969, any person that commits fraud, whether changing their name, age or any other case of fraud could be punished with imprisonment of up to 15 years but authorities have allowed this to go unpunished. Publicly the FA condemns this practise of changing the age of players to gain an advantage in youth tournaments but behind closed doors it is key officials in the FA that are the main instigators of tazweer.