July 27, 2010

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) -- Asia's soccer chief Mohamed Bin Hammam has expressed his "deep concern" at the failure of Iraq to elect a new president for its soccer federation, which could lead to its suspension from the international game.

A political power struggle has paralysed the Iraqi Football Association (IFA), highlighting sectarian divisions in the country seven years after the U.S.-led invasion and three years after a multi-ethnic Iraqi squad triumphed in the Asian Cup.

A new ban could prevent Iraq from defending the Asian Cup title in Qatar in January.

"The situation in Iraq is of deep concern to AFC and FIFA," Bin Hammam said on the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) website (www.the-afc.com).

"I hope the issue will be resolved amicably for the good of Iraqi football."

Two attempts to elect a new president in Arbil last weekend failed because too few delegates made the journey to the city in Iraqi Kurdistan, where soccer's world governing body FIFA had decided the vote should take place for security reasons.

The government of Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has been trying to remove top officials from sport bodies suspected of having ties to the Sunni-led former government of Saddam Hussein.

IFA President Hussain Saeed, who was once a senior official on the Olympic Committee controlled by Saddam's son Uday, is facing a challenge from Falah Hassan, backed by the Shi'ite-led government.

Saeed accused the government of putting pressure on delegates not to travel to Arbil and requested that FIFA allow the IFA to postpone the election until further notice.

FIFA bans governments from meddling in national federations and has suspended Iraq twice, lifting the last ban in March on condition the IFA agreed to new elections.

"All parties need to abide by FIFA's guidelines, which are very clear," Bin Hammam added.

"Politics has no place in football and all stakeholders should work together to take Iraqi football forward. The game is a great unifying factor in Iraq. The authorities should take care that its credibility is not destroyed."

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