BAGHDAD, Iraq, Nov 6 – Iraq has been told to find neutral venues for this month’s home qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup and 2023 Asia Cup because of ongoing protests, officials said on Wednesday.
Iraq had been due to play the two games in Basra — against Iran on November 14 and Bahrain on November 19 — but the southern port city has been caught up in the anti-government demonstrations that have swept Baghdad and the south.
“FIFA informed us late Tuesday night that we must choose a new place, an alternative outside Iraq, for the scheduled match with Iran by Wednesday,” the deputy head of the Iraqi football federation, Ali Jabbar, told AFP.
The Iraqi federation has received a formal letter from FIFA and is “following up on the issue,” another member of the federation confirmed.
A statement from FIFA said it had assessed “the current security situation in Iraq” and informed the local federation that upcoming matches “must be played on neutral ground.”
“The Iraqi Football Association has been requested to nominate a neutral venue for the said matches, which is subject to confirmation by FIFA and the AFC,” it said.
The decision is a major disappointment for Iraq, which had lobbied FIFA for years to reverse a ban on hosting home internationals because of instability.
Following the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the country was plunged into years of violence and no international games were hosted there.
The ban was lifted by FIFA last year and Iraq hosted its first qualifier in October against Hong Kong, winning 2-0.
Iraq tops its group for Asia Cup qualification with seven points, leading Bahrain on goal difference, while Iran holds third spot with six points.
Hong Kong and Cambodia each have one point.