The Federal State of Iraqi Football: ‘We need change’

From 2003 football in Iraq, not much has changed, it is the same old, ugly and clueless faces (with links to the previous regime) running the show. I am not saying this is all bad, under Saddam not many people would reach the top without being a Baathist or a Saddam loyalist. Hussein Saeed was Uday’s right hand man for many a year, and even as a player, Hussein was a member of the FA and part of the old guard. Hussein and another player Adnan Dirjal were close to Uday and it was no mistake that one became general secretary of the Iraq Olympic Committee and the Iraq FA and the other was employed as national coach of Iraq. However Hussein Saeed was a sportsmen first and foremost, with strong links with FIFA and the AFC that he had built over years after his retirement. This was not just any footballer in Iraq; he was the most prolific goalscorer of his generation, who to this day holds both the records of most caps and goals for Iraq.

I don’t really know what happened before the last elections in 2011, did Najih Humoud out-manoeuvre Hussein Saeed? Did Hussein Saeed decide that the pressures on him were not worth fighting and just gave-up? I really don’t have the answers. He is a complex human-being that never reveals his cards. He never speaks about his time with Uday.

See more about Hussein Saeed in an article I wrote a few of years ago, it will give you some idea of what happened in 2003

People in Iraq don’t like to talk about the days under Saddam even players that suffered under Uday, who spoke out openly and publicly in 2003, have kept relatively silent since. You will not hear any of the FA officials speak against the former regime (this is how most people say when speaking about Saddam’s regime). Maybe out of fear, maybe because it was the past and they want to keep it that way.

The (current) FA president Najih Humoud (pending the result of the long-awaited ruling from the Court of Arbitration for Sport) was one of the top coaches in Iraq under Saddam and after the regime’s fall in 2003, he became a sports official and a member of the FA. I have no idea why he made the change from top level coach to sports administration, maybe he felt it was a young man’s game, or it could be the prestige of running football in the country.

This is an ambitious man, a former footballer, who spent most of his days playing in the bottom basement of second division football in Kufa, and somehow made one of the provincial clubs in Iraq in the south, Al-Najaf, into one of the most attractive football teams in the country, even challenging the dominant Baghdad clubs. Najih was eventually appointed coach of Iraq in 1999 (a year after Uday imprisoned him on his farm after the poor showing of the Iraqi youth team at the AFC Youth Championship, where Najih was an assistant coach, he actually imprisoned the whole team on the farm with team officials).

In 2002, Saddam’s security forces imprisoned him. Najih states that it was to protect employees at the Kufa Cement Company where he was a director. A section of the company had reported theft of some cement processing equipment and investigated the matter and discovered the culprits. But instead of first going to the security forces, he went through the Ministry’s disciplinary board, and exhausted the process until it was referred to the security forces who believed that Najih should have gone though them first, and that Najih was hiding something from them and was jailed. He said that he knew that if he had gone to the security forces than many of the employees at the company would have faced imprisonment. He was reportedly released after Saddam’s amnesty in 2002 after the elections, in which Saddam polled ‘100%’.

His critics claim that he was imprisoned after embezzling millions from the Cement Company and that he took money from sale of Iraqi oil under the old regime. There was evidence published on the internet however it is believed that they had been fabricated by his doubters to discredit him. In Iraq, politics is a dirty business and talk is cheap.

Laws and regulations are the pillars of any society so when you have a country with no planning regulations on building a house or how high the pavement on the streets or roads should be, it gives you an idea of what kind of governance sports in Iraq is under. Rule of law in Iraq is in part run by the mentality of people or individuals. The old bureaucracy and government regulations in applying for a passport or trying to get a government pension are still there. A person can go from one government building to another, just to get their papers stamped with a government seal and the endless bribes and the cronic and debilitating corruption that riddles daily life in the country is another story.

Under Saddam things worked, mainly with the deadly stick of fear but Saddam knew how to get things working, whether it was bribing people or threatening (flattening their homes and killing them). Today’s well-paid Iraqi ‘leaders’ living in the safety of the Green Zone, can’t get things running (or just don’t care). One of the most wealthiest oil producing countries in the world, and it can not, 10 years after the fall of Saddam bring electricity to the homes of the general population, let alone clean running water. Its excuse is that demand has increased.

If you may remember in 2009, Iraq were almost thrown out of the World Cup because the Iraqi Olympic Committee dissolved the sports associations, did they have the right to do so? If so, under whose law? The law of the Olympic Committee, Iraqi law or FIFA’s?

The fall of Uday caused a lot of problems. It was Uday that dissolved the Youth and Sports Ministry (the government ministry that ran sports), and Uday as head of the Olympic Committee and the Iraq FA became the sole lawmaker on sports in Iraq. However in 2003 after the war, there were two bodies running sports, one claiming authority over the other, each wanting independence from the other (mainly because of the individuals running the sports bodies and the parties that supported them). I still believe the post-Saddam administration failed in this aspect and the problem of 2009 may crop up again in the future. I think this is Saddam’s legacy and I believe only time will change this.

So the answer to your question, how does sports governance under Saddam compare with today, not much difference other than in Saddam’s day, Uday ruled, today there are two bodies, Sports Ministry and the Olympic Committee (three if you consider the Iraq FA). Getting these three bodies to work together for the benefit of football and sports in the country will take years, each of their own interests at heart, instead of one united goal.

The old Iraq FA in 1948 had representation from the three prime bodies than ran sports at the time, the Ministry of Education (through the Physical Education), Ministry of Defence (through the Army Games Committee) and the Olympic Committee. Over the years the role of sports clubs increased in Iraqi football and now they form the FA General Assembly that vote in the elections.

I personally believe that sports administration in Iraq has to change, we had a person like Abdul-Khaliq Masoud, working as treasurer at the FA, and this is a man with no idea of numbers. You look at other FA’s around the world and the Iraq FA and Iraq is light years behind in every sector. There are rumours of bribes being paid to FA officials for players to get a place in the national squad. These figures have no idea on professionalism, sponsorship, how to market the game or even how to set-up friendly matches for the national side. These current members of the FA and I include members from 2003, will leave no legacy whether at grass roots in youth football or at the top level of the game. Football has moved leaps and bounds and we, Iraq, have not managed to catch up. We don’t need the best former footballers running the game in Iraq; we need the right people, and the right model to bring the game forward. Iraqi football has a lot of potential and should look to Japan and South Korea to how to advance the game, not the way of the oily and greasy petro-dollar leagues of Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

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