SYDNEY, Australia -- Soccer's governing body Thursday lifted its international ban on Iraq to keep alive the World Cup qualifying hopes of a team that represents a rare symbol of national unity amid war and sectarian rivalries.
Iraq was suspended by FIFA, the sport's overseers, on Tuesday after Iraq's government dissolved the national Olympic Committee and all sports federations. FIFA said the Iraqi move amounted to political interference into the autonomy of the sports organizations.
It was a huge blow in Iraq, where the national soccer team's Asian Cup championship last year brought street parties and an outpouring of national pride that -- for a moment at least -- united Iraq's Sunnis, Shiite and Kurds.
The ban was provisionally lifted after FIFA receiving a letter from an Iraqi Cabinet official saying the Iraqi soccer federation had been "excluded" from the decree disbanding the Olympic Committee and other sports bodies, FIFA said in a statement.
That cleared the way for Iraq to play Australia on Sunday in the qualifying tournament for the 2010 World Cup. But FIFA said the ban could be re-imposed if Iraqi authorities do not "fully answer" its concerns about the government's "attempts to control" the Iraqi sports federations and its national Olympic Committee.
The International Olympic Committee executive board is scheduled to discuss Iraq's status when it meets in Athens, Greece, next week. But the IOC has not said what steps it would take if Iraq sticks by its decision.
The Iraqi government has accused the nation's Olympic Committee of corruption, while supporters of the committee say officials simply want to install their own people into the lucrative and prestigious posts.
There's also a possible sectarian twist. The Youth and Sports Ministry is dominated by Shiites, while the Olympic Committee includes several Sunni holdovers from the Saddam Hussein era.
Four members of the National Olympic Committee, including its chief, were kidnapped by gunmen nearly two years ago, and there has been no word on their fates.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press