Iraqi fans celebrate lifting of 3-decade FIFA ban

FILE - In this Sept. 9, 2017 file photo, soccer fans wave national flags during a friendly match, in Basra, Iraq. An Iraq-Qatar match, part of a friendly soccer tournament this week with Syria and Qatar, is to start Wednesday, March 21, 2018, in Basra. While friendly matches have been allowed for some time, last week FIFA lifted a three-decade ban on international competitions for the Iraqi cities of Basra, Karbala and Irbil, considered to be the safest in Iraq -- but not Baghdad, which still sees militant attacks. (AP Photo/Nabil al-Jourani, File)

Iraq hosts friendly soccer tournament, days after FIFA lifted 3-decade ban on international competitions in Iraq

BAGHDAD — Iraqi soccer fans are celebrating the lifting of FIFA's three-decade-long ban on their country holding international competitions as the southern city of Basra prepared to host a friendly match with Qatar on Wednesday.

The world soccer's governing body lifted the ban last Friday, allowing Iraqi cities of Basra, Karbala and Irbil to host full international games and competitions for the first time since the 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

Even while the ban was in place, Iraq was still allowed, since 2017, to host friendly matches and tournaments — such as three- nation face-off between Iraq, Qatar and Syria slated to begin Wednesday evening.

Basra, Karbala and Irbil are considered the safest in Iraq. FIFA did not permit games to be held in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, which still sees frequent militant attacks.

Iraq's minister of youth and sports, Abdul-Hussein Abtan, congratulated the Iraqi people on Monday, following FIFA's move, and said it would change how Iraq is viewed in the region and beyond.

Iraqi fans posted celebratory videos to the minister's Facebook page, praising FIFA's decision.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said the lifting of the ban "was the result of stability, security and successes achieved by Iraq in all fields," according to a statement from his office on Friday.

FIFA's 1990 ban was temporarily lifted in 2011, but after a match between Iraq and Jordan was disrupted by a power outage, it was re-imposed.

FIFA's decision also follows Iraq's declaration of victory over the Islamic State group.

After more than three years of war against IS, Iraq — closely backed by a U.S.-led coalition and with support from Iran — retook nearly all the territory the extremists once held in the country and declared victory over the group late last year.

Iraq hosted a successful friendly against Saudi Arabia in February which Iraq won four to one. Following the game, Saudi Arabia offered to build a football stadium in Baghdad with the capacity to seat more than 100,000 people.

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This story was corrected to show that FIFA lifted the ban last Friday, not Monday.

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