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Soccer-AFC president pledges to help Iraq host matches

Reuters

Oct 12 (Reuters) - The Asian Football Confederation have pledged full support to Iraq in their bid to overturn a ban on playing home internationals after the 2007 Asian champions were left furious at being stripped of hosting the Gulf Cup.

FIFA banned Iraq from hosting matches in July in a move criticised this week by Jordan's Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein, a member of the world governing body's all powerful executive committee..

AFC President Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, also a FIFA member and the head of the Bahraini FA, said checks would be carried out to see if war-torn Iraq was safe enough to host matches.

"Both FIFA and AFC have agreed that the continental governing body will send a working team to assess the situation," AFC President Sheikh Salman told members at a FIFA-AFC regional development seminar in Manama on Friday.

"The team will present a full report to FIFA which will help them in this issue."

The ban was cited as one of the reasons for the Iraqi city of Basra being replaced by Jeddah in Saudi Arabia as the host of the 2014/15 Gulf Cup this week.

That decision came after a meeting of the heads of the eight Football Associations who take part in the Middle East event for national teams and was met with a furious reaction by the Iraqi government.

Iraq's Ministry of Youth and Sport said the decision was politically motivated amid worsening relations with Saudi Arabia and the team were withdrawn from the tournament.

That incurred a warning from the AFC, who told the government to stay out of football matters or risk another ban following their 2009 suspension by FIFA for interference.

Sheikh Salman said sending the assessment team had conditions.

"We are with you and will support whatever decisions you take for the benefit of Iraqi football but we will not tolerate interference from outsiders," the Bahraini said. (Writing by Patrick Johnston, editing by Nick Mulvenney)

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