The start of the 2009-2010 Iraqi Premier league season will finally kick off on Wednesday, after a three-month delay.
After much drama involving the old FA administration headed by Hussein Saeed and the Iraqi Olympic Committee elections, that has seen the FA dissolved, and Iraq suspended from international competitions, Iraqi clubs can finally get back to their bread and butter, Al-Dawri (The League).
The problems all began this summer when former FA president Hussein Saeed announced that the new season would have no promotion or relegation and would feature an astonishing 43 clubs in the top flight, an increase of 16 teams from the previous season.
The decision was seen by many observers, as a cynical ploy to gain votes for the upcoming elections.
Then to the dismay of the Iraqi football community, and the Iraq Olympic Committee, FIFA granted the Iraqi FA an extension to hold elections until April 30, 2010, stressing that the work of the Iraq FA should be without external interference from government authorities to force elections.
That had been the third extension handed out by FIFA to the Iraqi FA, and meant that Hussein Saeed’s administration had held office for six years. Last month, the Iraq Olympic Committee dissolved the FA after talks failed, and 72 hours later, FIFA suspended Iraq.
A week later the Olympic Committee named an interim FA headed by Hadi Ahmed and declared that 32 teams (later amended to 36 teams) would take part in the Premier League.
A play-off for the last two places in the league was played earlier this month, with Al-Karkh and Zakho gaining promotion.
The new Iraqi league is made-up of two groups, North and South with 18 teams each. However only 24 hours before the big kick off, two clubs in the northern group, Sulimaniya and Sirwan have withdrawn due to financial difficulties.
League champions Arbil have once again spent big in pre-season, shelling out over 300m Iraqi dinars (approx. $300,000 US) on new players.
Mahdi Karim, the most expensive of the club’s new signing of the summer put pen to a deal worth just over $100,000 US. Next come defender Nabil Abbas and forward Suhail Naiem both from Al-Najaf and Hulgard Mulla Mohammed of Sulimaniya.
The club have also signed two African players, the first two professionals in the Iraqi League. Guinean striker Ismaël Bangoura from Libyan club Al-Shawehly and Senegalese midfielder Fallou Seni Camara from Turkish second division club Karşıyaka S.K. The duo signed one-year contracts with the club worth $70,000 US each.
A third African, 19 year-old midfielder Mohammed Mbaye, a Senegal Under-20 international failed to impress the Arbil coaching staff and joined rivals Zakho in Duhok province on a one-year deal worth 35m Iraqi dinars.
The club managed by journeyman Abdul-Amir “Amouri” Ahmed signed Palestinian libero Yousef Saeed, a player he knew from his days coaching in Lebanon, and Benin national team defender Soualio Bakayoko, a former youth player at Olympique Marseille. Defender Hussein Alaa who spent last season in China with Qingdao Jonoon, and has played in Morocco, and the Emirates, was signed for a club record 100m Iraqi dinars.
Zakho, who along with Al-Karkh were promoted back into the top flight have recently been in talks with Romanian based Iraqi forward Salih Jaber, and former FC Gloria Buzău team-mate, 20 year-old striker Adrian Tiberiu Sandu about a move to the club.
11-time league champions Al-Zawraa have failed to solve their financial woes, and have lost fifteen first team players in the pre-season, including national team left back Aws Ibrahim to Al-Shurta.
Reinforcements come in the shape of Haidar Abdul-Amir and Jaber Shaker while the return of national keeper Mohammed Kasid from his short adventure in Cyprus will give new coach Hazim Jassam, a former captain from the club’s heydas in the Seventies, some relief for the long and difficult season ahead.
They will have to rely heavily on veteran striker and team captain Husham Mohammed and a host of untried youngsters.
Baghdad rivals Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya (Air Force) have recruited former national team keeper Noor Sabri, Jassim Mohammed Ghulam, Haitham Kadhim Tahir and returning hero Razzaq Farhan back at the club after spending ten years in Bahrain, the UAE, Qatar and Jordan and netting over 150 goals.
Noor Sabri Returns To Baghdad
Iraq’s oldest club have also signed Nabras Salman (Al-Sinaa), Mohammed Abdul-Zahra (Al-Nafat), Dara Mohammed (Sulmaniya), Safwan Abdul-Ghani (Duhok), and Ibrahim Kamil (Al-Nasr, UAE).
Al-Shurta have retained coach Rahim Hamed and hope to improve on last season’s poor eighth place finish. Ahmed Kadhim, who last played for the Police Club in 2003, has been re-signed from Esteghlal Ahvaz in Iran, along with the Ibrahim brothers, Khaldoun and Aws.
Goalkeeper Wisam Kasid joins from Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya, and Saad Attiya and Samal Saeed from Arbil. Last years beaten finalists Al-Najaf have lost three key players, but have managed to bolster their ranks by signing Ali Saad (Al-Shurta), Azhar Tahar (Duhok) and Al-Zawraa trio Abbas Rahema, Mustafa Ahmed and former national defender Haidar Obaid.
The newly named Baghdad Sports Club (formerly Amana) have been the busiest club over the summer, contracting over half a squad and a new coach at a cost of 800m Iraqi dinars.
The ambitious club, who were the only team to go unbeaten throughout the whole of last season, have managed to entice Yahya Alwan away from Al-Zawraa with a contract worth over 120m Iraqi dinars (over $100,000 US).
They also signed Ahmed Abdul-Jabar (Duhok), Ossama Hussein (Al-Zawraa), Haidar Sabah (Al-Zawraa), Haidar Aboudi (Dub Al-Fujeira, UAE), Alaa Jaber (Karbala), Abdul-Amir Haidar (Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya), Ameer Sabah & Walid Khalid (Al-Shurta), Mohanad Jabar (Al-Talaba), and re-signed Essam Yassin. Striker Ali Mansour, who last season played for Arbil, has recently joined after spells at Talaba and Al-Najaf.
Duhok, managed by Basim Qasim have a talented young side led by Khalid Musher and the acqusition of five players Adnan Attiya, Sajjad Hussein, Salar Abdul-Jabar, Hassan Mohammed Zaboun, Ali Yousif from Al-Zawraa will surely add something to the team’s squad, that already includes defender Jassim Mohammed Haji and Under-19s starlet Amjad Walid.
Last week the club lost the services of national team forward Ali Salah, who signed for Turkish second division side Orduspor.