Since territory of the modern state of Iraq was defined in 1920, the country has produced its fair share of outstanding footballers who have made their mark in both the club and international game.
Having produced a long list of legends such as Kadhim Waal and Habib Jafar in the past, plus current stars like Ali Adnan and Yaser Kasim, Iraq continue to be one of Asia’s top footballing nations.
A number of these great players made their way across the globe and laced up their boots in Europe and America. Some are known as the greatest players to ever grace Asia, others are cult legends.
So without further ado, here is Soccer Iraq‘s pick of the 10 best Iraqis to ever play the game in order of their international debut.
We start with the mighty Emmanuel Baba Dawood, known as Ammo Baba, the most revered figure in Iraqi football, both as a player and later as coach of the national side.
Ammo Baba scored Iraq’s first goal in an international match in 1957. As coach, he led Iraq to three titles in the Gulf Cup (1979, 1984, 1988), the Asian Games, 1984, and the Arab National Cup in 1988. He was also successful in the Iraqi League, where he led Al Talaba to a title in 1981. After leaving the national scene he was hired by Al Zawraa, and led them to a title in 1994.
Ammo Baba loved his country and loved his people. He challenged everything in order to serve his country to the last breath and became the symbol of success for Iraq and Iraqis.
Ammo Baba will forever remain an Iraqi football icon.
Husham Ata Ataj
Born in Adhamiyah in 1941, Husham Ata Ajaj played alongside Ammo Baba in the sixties. Making his debut for the Iraq Military side in 1962 against Belgium, Ajaj slowly made a name for himself internationally after scoring Iraq’s two goals in a 2-2 draw against East Germany.
Renowned for his pace and agility, Husham Ata Ajaj was a one-man club. Ajaj helped secure Al Quwa Al Jawiya the Iraqi League, Cup and Army Championship in 1963.
Ajaj was forced to retire in 1971 after suffering a knee injury in a friendly match against Al Minaa. Although a relatively short career, Husham Ata Ajaj will forever remain an Iraqi great.
Between the 1970s and 1980s, Falah Hassan was regarded as the brightest star of Iraq’s golden period. Hassan, also known as The Fox, captained Al Zawraa to several league and cup titles. He captained the Iraq side for five years helping them to their first Gulf Cup victory and the 1979 World Military Championship in Kuwait, beating Italy on penalties. The Fox also captained the Olympic side at the 1980 games in Moscow and finished as the nations top scorer following crucial goals in group matches against Costa Rica and Yugoslavia.
Falah Hassan was technically outstanding and a tall but physical build meant that he was virtually unstoppable when dribbling with the ball. An all-time favourite in the eyes of many.
Falah Hassan formed a formidable partnership with no other than Ali Kadhim. Playing together for the national team and at Al Zawraa, the pair quickly became the most talked about duo in the continent. Al Shaab from the UAE reportedly offered both Kadhim and Hassan a contract in 1978 which was rejected by the Iraqi FA.
Considered as one of the best strikers in the history of the national team, Kadhim fired in 35 goals for Iraq and was at a stage the country’s all-time leading scorer. Ali Kadhim is also the uncle of the most talked about Iraqi this summer, Ali Adnan Kadhim.
A ferocious and passionate goalkeeper, Raad Hammoudi quickly became a cult hero in Iraq when he was named goalkeeper of the tournament at the 1979 Gulf Cup. Hammoudi captained Al Shorta to the Iraqi League in season 1979/80 and was part of the 1986 World Cup squad.
A superb shot-stopper possessed with calmness and authority, the former Iraq captain was capable of keeping strikers at bay when his team were firmly under the cosh.
Raad Hammoudi remains the most iconic and successful goalkeeper the Lions of Mesopotamia have ever seen.
Maybe one of the all-time best Asian players, Hussein Saeed’s illustrious career saw him score 141 goals for Al Talaba lifting the Iraqi League title three times with his only club. Saeed helped Iraq qualify for a number of Olympic games at 1980, 1984 and 1988 as well as the 1986 World Cup
During the golden generation, Hussein Saeed was without a doubt the nations star striker. He was especially prolific at the Gulf Cup and still holds the tournament goalscoring record.
Saeed heads the list of Iraq’s all-time scorers with 61 goals from 126 matches. The tally puts him 14th on the list of top goalscorers in international football.
Adnan Dirjal is a former Al Zawraa, Al Talaba and Al Rasheed centre-back. He had a reputation for taking no prisoners, which is fitting for a man who was the son of Muhannad Adnan Dirjal.
During his time as a player, Dirjal won the Iraqi League seven times and had spent his most successful spell at Uday Hussein’s club Al Rasheed. As well as three titles with the Baghdad side now known as Al Karkh, Dirjal captained Al Rasheed to a record three Arab Club Championships during the eighties.
With Iraq, Adnan was part of the side who won the World Military Championship in 1979. He represented his country at three Olympics Games, in 1980, 1984 and 1988. Dirjal also won three Gulf Cups and the Asian Games in 1982.
One of the brighest stars of the Arab footballing world in the eighties, Ahmed Radhi scored Iraq’s most monumental goal in 1986 at the World Cup finals in Mexico. His goal came in a 2-1 defeat against Belgium and is Iraq’s first and only goal at a World Cup.
After the World Cup, Uruguayan side Nacional made a $1 million offer for Radhi but it was rejected by his club Al Rasheed.
Between 1982-1998, Ahmed Radhi had scored 42 times in 73 appearances. As one of the most outstanding Iraqi goalscorers of his generation, his record has left many regarding Radhi as Iraq’s greatest ever player.
The man nicknamed the maestro. Nashat Akram was a playmaking king. Known for his exceptional vision and excellent passing ability, Akram was a major influence on the national team during his career.
Following Asian Cup success in 2007, the midfielder attracted a host of European clubs. Sunderland and Malaga sparked interested but it was Sven-Goran Eriksson’s Manchester City of 2008 who came the closest. Akram completed a successful trial spell for City but was refused the necessary work permit to enter the UK.
Nashat Akram went on to sign for Dutch side FC Twente and became the first Iraqi to play in and win the Eredivisie title.
Last but certainly not least. Younis Mahmoud is undoubtedly one of Iraq’s greatest ever players. With 148 international appearances to his name, he remains the country’s most ever capped player. Having scored an astonishing 57 goals, Mahmoud is also five goals away from equaling Hussein Saeed’s all-time record.
Younis Mahmoud captained Iraq to Asian Cup victory in 2007, scoring the most goals and receiving player of the tournament in the process.