Iraq's football association is due to finally hold long-postponed elections

BAGHDAD: Iraq's football association is due to finally hold long-postponed elections for its board Saturday, following threats from the sport's global governing body that postponing them any further risks indefinite suspension.

IFA board elections have long been plagued by chaos and allegations of political meddling, with polls originally held in July 2011 marred by claims of malpractice, while efforts in recent months to finally hold a new vote have been blighted by multiple delays and apparent threats of violence.

The never-ending crises, which mirror the standoffs and deadlocks in Iraq's national politics, have overshadowed a rare issue with cross-sectarian appeal in a country grappling with fragile communal ties amid deteriorating security.

A 75-member committee made up of the heads of local clubs, provincial sports officials and others is due to select a president, two deputies and an eight-member board in a vote at 1:00 pm (1000 GMT) at a central Baghdad hotel.

The main poll pits current president Najeh Hmoud against his deputy Abdulkhaliq Massud, after contested elections won by Hmoud in 2011 were annulled by the Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport based on claims of multiple problems with vote.

The IFA was originally due to hold these elections in January, following the CAS ruling, but balloting was postponed until April, and then finally to Saturday.

The multiple delays spurred world football's governing body FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation to warn that if the polls were not held by the end of May, the IFA faced "immediate and indefinite suspension".

FIFA and the AFC also alleged in a letter that in the lead-up to the planned April vote, "the AFC representative received threatening phone calls during his mission."

Although FIFA insists that football must be free of politics, in Iraq politics permeates nearly everything, including sport.

In July 2013, FIFA barred Iraq from hosting international friendlies due to a surge in violence, reversing a decision three months earlier to allow the country to host such matches.

But despite the near-constant chaos, football continues to dominate Iraq's sporting landscape, with cafes routinely packed with supporters cheering on the national side.

The team failed to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, however, and has struggled to replicate its stunning success in the 2007 Asia Cup when Iraq emerged triumphant, giving the country a rare national symbol as it was mired in a brutal Sunni-Shiite sectarian war.