By Nick Butler

Iraq celebrate winning the 2007 Asian Cup in happier times than todays boycott announcementOctober 9 - Iraq has announced its withdrawal from the 2014-2015 Gulf Cup of Nations in protest to the decision to move the tournament away from the original host city choice of Basra.

Beginning in 1970 the eight team competition, usually held every second year, consists of the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council - Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates - as well as Iraq and Yemen.

A unanimous decision was reached yesterday to switch the next tournament from Basra to the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah.

Incomplete infrastructure in Iraq, as well as a ban by football's world governing body FIFA on the country hosting international matches because of security concerns, were the reasons given for the switch.

Iraqi officials denounced the decision as politically motivated and announced their withdrawal from the tournament.

Football is a hugely popular sport in Iraq and the national team has enjoyed considerable success in recent yearsFootball is a hugely popular sport in Iraq and the national team has enjoyed considerable success in recent years

In a statement the Iraq Ministry of Youth and Sport announced that "it has become manifestly clear that the reason for moving the [tournament] from Basra to Jeddah is political and taken under intense pressure from Saudi Arabia."

"Saudi Arabia and others are conspiring behind closed doors against Iraq and the sports [of Iraq]."

The statement continued to claim how Iraq had poured huge sums of money into preparing for the tournament and that Gulf states had agreed in 2007 to hold it in Basra, at a time when the security situation was worse than now.

They plan to lodge an official complaint and appoint a lawyer to look into lifting the ban.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki also weighed into the dispute, describing the tournament switch as "prejudiced against the rights of the Iraqi people" in a televised speech.

To make matters worse, the move also follows a similar decision ahead of the 2013 event which was originally to be held in Iraq before being switched to Bahrain.

Iraq President Nouri al Maliki has entered into the rowIraq President Nouri al Maliki has entered into the row

Relations between Iraq and Saudi Arabia have been poor for a long time, ever since the Gulf War when the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein's Iraqi regime was opposed by a coalition including, among others, Saudi Arabia.

Following the overthrow of Saddam's regime in 2003 the installation of al-Maliki's Shia Government represented a further deterioration in relations due to the Sunni nature of the Saudi regime.

Iraq accuses Qatar and Saudi Arabia of fermenting unrest among its Sunni minority, and has tended to support instead neighbouring Iran and, although remaining officially neutral, by definition Iran's staunch ally in the Syrian regime of Bashar Al-Assad.

FIFA suspended Iraq from hosting international matches in 2002, amending this in 2009 to allow certain matches to be played in northern city of Arbil, although the ban was later reinstated.

In March, FIFA said Iraq could play at home again, but with violence worsening as Sunni Islamist insurgents regained ground they suspended this permission again in July

This has not stopped Iraqi teams enjoying much success in recent years, reaching the semi-finals of the Athens Olympic Games in 2004 and winning the Asian Cup in 2007.

But the President of the Bahrain Football Association, Sheikh Ali bin Khalifa Al-Khalifa, insisted that "all the (FA) presidents agreed... that the city of Basra was not ready,"

"The decision was based on purely technical matters," he said.

"The meeting agreed that Jeddah would host the 22nd Gulf Cup after they reviewed technical reports and recommendations by federation officials to shift the venue from Basra on the grounds that it was not ready for the Gulf tournament."

He stressed that Iraq's own FA had supported the switch before adding that "we also agreed that the 23rd tournament would be held in Basra on the condition that it would be ready to host it."

The city of Basra appears a safer location than others in Iraq but has been deemed not safe enough to host the Gulf CupThe city of Basra appears a safer location than others in Iraq but has been deemed not safe enough to host the Gulf Cup

If the threatened boycott does go ahead FIFA are unlikely to view events sympathetically

They temporarily banned Cameroon in July for alleged state meddling, warning at the time that "the FIFA statutes oblige member associations to manage their affairs independently and with no influence from third parties."

But, in an interesting twist, FIFA vice president Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein has questioned Iraq's ban on hosting matches and said it was unfair to exclude them while other countries facing similar problems were allowed to play at home.

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