Asian champions Iraq suspended by FIFA

BERNE - Asian champions Iraq have been suspended from international football because of political interference in the country's Football Association, world governing body FIFA said on Friday.

It is Iraq's second ban in 18 months, the previous having lasted just three days, and comes only four months after they staged their first internationals at home since the US-led invasion of the country in 2003.

"The FIFA Emergency Committee has...decided to suspend the Iraqi Football Association (IFA) due to governmental interference," FIFA said in a statement.

"FIFA learned on 16 November that the Iraqi Olympic Committee had disbanded the IFA and that governmental security forces had seized control of the IFA headquarters," added the statement. UNACCEPTABLE MEASURES

"The measures taken by the Iraqi Olympic Committee and the security forces are unacceptable to FIFA as they stand in total contradiction of IFA and FIFA statutes.

"The current members of the IFA Executive Committee are the sole recognised interlocutors for FIFA, and FIFA hopes that they will be rapidly reinstated so that they can work on the agreements that have been reached with regard to the revision of the statutes and the holding of elections."

The ruling means Iraq cannot play any internationals - friendly or competitive - and its clubs are also banned from playing foreign opposition.

The only exception applies to an Iraq women's team which has been given permission to play in an under-16 regional tournament in Jordan later this month.

The leaders of Iraq's Olympic committee and the IFA have been embroiled in a power struggle for control of the sport for at least a year. EARLY EXIT

Olympic committee members blame the IFA for a continuing FIFA ban on Iraq hosting international matches due to lingering problems over security.

FIFA this year allowed Iraq to host its first friendlies since the 2003 US-led invasion, and Iraq beat Palestine in two matches played in the northern city of Arbil and in Baghdad.

But the general ban remains in place.

The Olympic committee has demanded the IFA elect a new governing board but the football federation has refused. Olympic committee members were enraged when FIFA intervened to extend the mandate of the IFA's board.

"We will not reverse our decision to disband the Iraqi Soccer Federation," Samir al-Moussawi, an official of the Olympic committee, told Reuters on Tuesday, adding the panel would endeavour to explain its position to FIFA.

FIFA previously suspended Iraq in May last year for similar motives but lifted the ban three days later.

Iraq captured the world's imagination by winning the Asian Cup in 2007 but have struggled since then.

They have employed a succession of coaches and made an early exit from the 2010 World Cup qualifying competition, although they managed a 1-0 win over Australia along the way.

As Asian champions they also earned the right to play in this year's Confederations Cup where they earned goalless draws with New Zealand and South Africa and lost 1-0 to Spain.