Iraq FA’s uneasy relationship with expat players is a sad state of affairs

The relationship between football federations and expat players is one that has become increasingly important in modern football. For an international team to become successful they certainly need to keep those players happy otherwise it can lead to disunity in the ranks. Here, Hassan Balal of laments the situation between the Iraq FA and their expat players.

Once again, politics has reared its ugly head in Iraqi football. The absence of Jiloan Hamad and Rebin Sulaka was noticeable in Srecko Katenec’s recent team selections. Iraq beat Hong Kong at home by two goals to nil, their first competitive game in Iraq for nearly a decade, whilst also winning against group minnows Cambodia by four goals. 

However, the debate that raged during the aftermath of both victories was regarding the treatment of Iraqi expats in the national team, and the alleged discrimination they face.

Jiloan Hamad made his debut after coming on for Iraq against Hong Kong. Jiloan is arguably the best talent in the current national team, yet featured a mere 30 minutes from the bench. Shockingly, when he was brought on, he barely received a pass from his teammates during the game. 

This was not the first time this has happened either, with other expat players revealing to that they are often ignored when calling for the ball both in training and in competitive matches.

Rebin Sulaka did not feature in the Hong Kong or Cambodia game despite being a massive upgrade on Saad Natiq. Likewise, Jiloan was benched for the Cambodia game too despite the opposition proving a perfect opportunity for him to establish himself in the team.

Ahmed Yasin and Justin Meram were the other two expats who should have featured in the squad, given the 4 player imposed quota on expats by the Iraqi FA. However, Justin was unable to attend due to the difficulties in traveling to Iraq and back whilst undergoing preparation for the MLS playoffs. Meanwhile, Ahmed Yasin was injured in his club game prior to travelling and was forced to pull out in the last moment. Both players, alongside Osama Rashid, will no longer be considered for selection by the national team as a result of their actions.

The Iraqi FA is declaring war on the expat players by making their conditions as difficult as possible to push them away from the national team. Local players are given preferential treatment in terms of minutes played and team selections.

Simply examining the number of minutes players such as Frans Putros, Osama Rashid and Brwa Nouri received for the national team highlights how certain expat players are pushed aside in at the first opportunity. In the meantime, players like Amjed Atwan, Mehdi Kamil and Humam Tariq continue to be selected by the national team despite continuously performing poorly.

Expat players are treated as second class citizens in their own country, despite the fact they are wearing the same shirt as their local nationals. Quite frankly, it’s absurd to see players trying to succeed for the Iraqi national team to be pushed aside in such a manner. 

The Iraqi national team should be looking to bring in the best players possible in order to compete for World Cup qualification and the Asian Cup. Instead, we’re too busy trying to prioritise player selection based on nepotism and origin of birth.  

Iraqi expats travel in economy flights, usually involving two layovers, simply to be selected for the national team. Often, they don’t even make the bench despite featuring and succeeding in their domestic leagues all over Europe. Despite this, they’re still apparently not good enough for the Iraqi national team.


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