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Prejudiced Iraqi FA blocking talent from Europe and MLS

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Justin Meram of the Columbus Crew controls the ball against Newcastle United FC on July 26, 2011 at Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Justin Meram of the Columbus Crew controls the ball against Newcastle United FC on July 26, 2011 at Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

If Messi was of Iraqi origin, we would never be given a fair chance to play for Al-Montakhab by the Iraqi Football Association. Many have tried and been shown the door, the reason is that many in Iraq, especially people running the Association do not see these mughtarabeen (expatriate) players as Iraqis.

Local coaches Nadhim Shaker, the former Iraqi Olympic coach and current national team coach Hakim Shaker believe that that players that have been brought up and play professionally for clubs abroad are not Ibn Al-Malha.

This was the name that Nadhim Shaker used to describe players from Iraq, literally meaning that they were the sons of the nation, and in a televised interview, he went onto question why the players that had left Iraq and claimed that he had tested some of the expatriate players when he was coach of the Olympic side and found that there were better players in the Iraqi league. This last claim is completely false because under his tenure, the coach did not call-up one player from outside Iraq.

The two coaches have a long history of not selecting mughtarabeen in the youth team and the Olympic side, and Nadhim along with Hakim Shaker believe only Ibn Al-Malha should play for Iraq, players born and bred in the country and had suffered the struggles of the country of wars, sanctions and bombings rather than the ‘pampered’ Iraqis that were living abroad in either North America or Europe.

In 2008 when Hakim was coach of the youth team, a former Iraqi goalkeeper Qasim Mohammed “Abu Hamra”, living in Sweden and working as a goalkeeping coach at one of the youth teams at Örebro SK, tried several times to contact Hakim Shaker to tell him about eight players that were interested in playing for the youth team, one of the players included a teenage Ahmed Yasin.

But he was unable to reach him, one time his assistant replied and said that the coach was in a meeting and a day later he had a television interview and then finally he declined to respond to his calls. The coach went onto reach the FA president Hussein Saeed and expressed his surprise that Hakim Shaker had rejected the eight players from Europe that were sent to him from Germany.

European-based players Osama Rashid from the Netherlands, German-born David Haider, Swedish based Ahmed Yasin and Yaser Kasim in England have attempted to wear the green jersey of Iraq but have only been handed excuses to reasons why they could not play.

The excuses why Ahmed Yasin, Osama Rashid, David Haider and Yaser Kasim have piled up and Hakim Shaker and the Iraqi FA officials had plenty of them. First was that their paper work was in order, then some were not match fit, and lastly some of their names were not registered so they were not eligible to play in AFC and FIFA competitions.

David Haider was named by Brazilian coach Zico to play at the 2012 WAFF Championship in Kuwait, but when Hakim took charge of the team on a temporary basis, he omitted the player, and professed that the FA had already named their squad for the tournament before his appointment and that the player had not been one of twenty names included in the final 20-man squad. All those claims proved to be false as Hakim had asked the FA on his appointment to include his youth players Ali Adnan and Saif Salman instead, with David Haider one of the players making way for Hakim’s boys.

What was more shocking was that because the WAFF Championship was not an official FIFA competition, the German based defender on the insistence of previous coach Zico, had left his club side Hallescher SC without official approval and was fined by his club on his return to Germany. Zico had asked the FA to include the player and had told the player he would be named in the squad, and would play a part during the tournament. But under Hakim, his name was omitted and he spent the competition watching Iraq’s matches as a spectator. He had been promised another opportunity by Hakim Shaker, but he has not been selected since.

Swedish-based Ahmed Yasin, who was on the bench for the recent Asian Cup qualifier with Saudi Arabia in Amman, has had too many excuses for his liking, and he will not play for Iraq until there are changes.

He recently told Iraqi satellite channel Al-Fayha TV that the training with the national side, lacked the intensity and professionalism he had experienced from the age of 10 in Sweden, where he trained twice a day with his club.

The player claimed that before his arrival in Amman, he was in peak of his fitness but after training for two days, his level of fitness dipped, and went onto mention that with the training sessions under the coach, most of the time was spent on nationalist speeches, and talking about what was written on Facebook and the media, and in his life Ahmed said he had never seen a coach talk so much about Facebook and newspapers.

“This is a national team not a shaabiya team,” Ahmed stated, and then continued to talk about his problems with the coach, explaining that during the Gulf Cup, Hakim Shaker told him ‘You have not trained and you’re not ready’, but he insisted he was fit, and then the coach went onto say that he did not like his hair and should cut it.

Before a game, he once asked Ahmed ‘Do you love Iraq, you’re not Iraqi, you did not live in Iraq and you know nothing about Iraq’  The player went onto say that if he did not love Iraq, he would be playing for Sweden.

Swindon Town cult-hero Yaser Kasim was also called–up recently by the Iraq FA for the Saudi game, but refused to fly to Amman after the FA failed to send plane tickets for the game.

Yaser has played for Iraq in 2011 and represented the Olympic side, but on those occasions the player paid his own way from London and had expected the FA to reimburse him for the cost of his travel expenses which was in the region of $2,500 US, but nothing has been repaid to him so far.

But this time, the player decided not to repeat his past mistakes, despite his eagerness to join the national team.

People close to the players believe that the inclusion of the pair in the squad for the Saudi game was used to appease and pacify the Iraqi fans, who for a long time have called for the players to be incorporated into the national set-up.

The FA’s General Relations Officer Walid Tabra had refused to send the official invitation letter to Kasim’s English club so that they would release him for the Asian Cup qualifier, and claimed that any player from outside Iraq was ‘mentality sick’ if he wanted to play for the national team and that they needed to ‘see a psychologist’.

The same FA official had previously objected to the inclusion of Osama Rashid and David Haider, and even held back German based player’s registration so he could not play in the World Cup qualifiers because he personally believed that the player was not good enough to play for Iraq!

The FA has also recently called-up Columbus Crew forward Justin Meram, but once again the paperwork had been unable to be processed in time for the Saudi game. The FA has stated that team manager Basil Gorgis would accompany the player and his parents in Baghdad during his application for an Iraqi passport application, and assured the fans that Meram's papers would be ready in time for Iraq's next game.

But don't hold your breath, even with an Iraqi passport, Meram and other players like him of Iraqi origin, will be made to jump through hoops by FA officials and will still not get a chance to play for the national side.

The prejudice against these professionals, which is what they are, not mughtarabeen, has reached a level that one cannot keep silent and allow an intolerant and bigoted agenda of FA officials to continue especially when these players will be of service to the depleted national team.

If any world-class player in Europe or anywhere else in the world, was of Iraqi origin and wanted to play for Iraq, they can forget about it until this backward attitude changes in Iraq.

Messi can count his blessings that he comes from Argentina, and not from Iraq because even the goalscoring ratio and balls skills of the Barcelona star would not be enough for the likes of Hakim Shaker, Nadhim Shaker or anyone at the Iraqi FA to play for Iraq, as Messi is not one of the Ibn Malha.