The new Iraqi Premier League season is just a few days away and clubs have been adding to their squads all summer in an attempt to improve their team ahead of the 15th September start to the campaign. Here, we look at each of the 20 clubs competing for the trophy and assess their chances of glory, giving our prediction for where each team will finish.
Best ever finish: 6th (1974/75)
Last season’s finish: 18th
Our predicted finish: 20th
Al-Samawa returned to the Iraqi Premier League last season and gave an underwhelming performance, finishing just three points ahead of relegated Duhok despite playing almost twice as many games as them. The departures of their two top scorers (Amir Mithaa to Amanat Baghdad and Muhaimen Salim to Karbalaa) will surely hurt them and we can only see them finishing in one position: bottom.
Best ever finish: 7th (1988/89)
Last season’s finish: Promoted
Our predicted finish: 19th
Al-Bahri were only promoted to the Iraqi Premier League thanks to the “goals scored rule”, as they finished level on points and goal difference with Brayati in the lower division but scored more goals than them. In fact, they didn’t actually win any of their “elite stage” matches in the lower division but drew all three of their games and only just managed to qualify for the league. They may prove a tough team to beat, but their lack of experience in the top division may well lead to them going straight back down.
Best ever finish: 14th (2014/15)
Last season’s finish: 17th
Our predicted finish: 18th
Al-Hedood have managed to escape relegation in both of the past two seasons, but have ridden their luck in the Premier League in recent times. In 2014/15, had Al-Sulaymaniya not withdrawn from the league, Al-Hedood might well have found themselves in the drop zone, whilst in 2015/16 they were poor and finished just two points away from relegated Al-Sinaa. Unfortunately for the Baghdad-based club, we can’t see them being as lucky this time around and we think they will be the third team to be relegated.
Best ever finish: N/A
Last season’s finish: Promoted
Our predicted finish: 17th
It’s an exciting time to be affiliated with Al-Hussein at the moment, as they are participating in the Iraqi Premier League for the first time in their history. They have already proven to the Iraqi public how tough of a team they are to beat, reaching the quarter-finals of the Iraqi FA Cup last year and inflicting the first defeat of the season on the eventual league champions Al-Zawraa when they beat them 2-1 in the cup. The Iraqi Division One champions should prove to be a real challenge for the other teams and they should be aiming to avoid relegation, which would be a fantastic achievement for the club.
Best ever finish: 7th (2009/10)
Last season’s finish: 12th
Our predicted finish: 16th
Al-Kahraba had a decent season in 2015/16, finishing two positions away from reaching the final stage. However, in reality they were actually closer to relegation than they were to the final stage, finishing nine points away from the drop zone compared with eleven points away from advancing. This coupled with the fact that their top scorer, Karrar Ali, has moved to Al-Talaba, makes us think that they could be facing another relegation battle, although their new strikers Hussam Ibrahim and Hassan Ali Kadhim should get them enough goals to ensure that they don’t go down.
Best ever finish: 3rd (1991/92)
Last season’s finish: 16th
Our predicted finish: 15th
Al-Karkh were, frankly, disappointing last season. They won just two of their 17 games and were lucky not to get relegated, although they did go on a good run in the Iraqi FA Cup that saw them reach the quarter-finals. The loss of their second-highest top scorer last season, Samer Majid, is a big one, and they will need to keep hold of their star player Backer Aloenouvo if they want to be a force this season. We don’t think the Yellow Submarines will be relegated but we have our doubts about the strength of their team and their business in the transfer window.
Best ever finish: 6th (2006/07, 2007/08)
Last season’s finish: 15th
Our predicted finish: 14th
Karbalaa had a fairly decent 2015/16 campaign, finishing seven points away from reaching the final stage, and they will hope to keep hold of their star player Jabbar Karim who was the sixth-highest goalscorer in the league last season. Their signing of Muhaimen Salim, a player who knows what it takes to win a league title having won the league with Al-Shorta in the 2012/13 season, could turn out to be a top signing, and their new Nigerian forward Rahim Oulabi is a talented player; Karbalaa will be a difficult team to face this season.
Best ever finish: 10th (2015/16)
Last season’s finish: 10th
Our predicted finish: 13th
Naft Maysan had arguably the best season in their history last campaign, finishing in their highest ever league position and ending up just three points away from the final stage. It will be difficult for the minnows to match their previous season but provided they keep hold of their main players, most notably Wissam Saadoun who bagged four goals for them last season, they may well have another good campaign and should provide a good challenge to the bigger clubs.
Best ever finish: 5th (2013/14)
Last season’s finish: 14th
Our predicted finish: 12th
Considering the fact that Naft Al-Janoob finished 5th in 2013/14 and 7th in 2014/15, their 14th place finish in 2015/16 was a failure. They only won three of their 17 matches and were closer to relegation than they were to advancing to the final stage. They have made some impressive signings so far (the likes of Iraq international goalkeeper Haider Raad, Togolese midfielder Papa Koami Awounyo and 2013/14 Iraqi Premier League top scorer Ali Salah Hashim have all signed) but in a season that is set to be more competitive than ever, the Iraqi FA Cup semi-finalists might struggle to replicate the success they had in 2013/14 and 2014/15, and we think they may just miss out on the top-half.
Best ever finish: 1st (2006/07, 2007/08, 2008/09, 2011/12)
Last season’s finish: 11th
Our predicted finish: 11th
Not too long ago, Erbil were Iraq’s best club. They won three consecutive leagues between 2007 and 2009 as well as winning it in 2012 and finishing as runners-up in 2011, 2013 and 2014. They also reached two AFC Cup finals, in 2012 and 2014, the furthest that any Iraqi club has ever reached in that competition. Unfortunately for the Yellow Castles, financial problems hit the club in the 2014/15 season and forced the club to sell most of their star players and they have now finished approximately 11th in two consecutive seasons. The 2016 summer transfer window has seen more players leave, with five of their best players (Burhan Jummah, Mohammed Khalid Jaffal, Herdi Siamand, Nadeem Kareem and Miran Khesro) all leaving the club, however they have made a few impressive signings including Syrian midfielder Tamer Haj who famously scored the winning penalty for Naft Al-Wasat in the 2014/15 Iraqi Premier League Final. Erbil still have the potential to do well but we question whether the Northern side will be able to improve on 11th place; only time will tell.
Best ever finish: 2nd (1995/96, 2005/06, 2008/09)
Last season’s finish: 13th
Our predicted finish: 10th
Last season was a season of frustration for Al-Najaf. They spent much of the season inside the top four spots in their group which would have qualified them for the final stage, but they collapsed towards the end, losing five of their last six matches and missing out on the final stage by six points. The Desert Gazelles will be hoping for a better campaign this time around and have certainly made a statement of intent by being one of the busiest clubs in the transfer market. Experienced defender Ayad Sadir has joined the club, as has midfielder Nadeem Kareem. They have also made major signings in the forward department with clinical Iraq international striker Hussein Ali Wahid, former Al-Shorta and Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya striker Bassam Qabel and two-time Iraqi Premier League winner Oday Al-Jafal all joining the club, so Al-Najaf should be stronger this season than they were last time out.
Best ever finish: 3rd (2013/14)
Last season’s finish: 8th
Our predicted finish: 9th
Amanat Baghdad did well to finish third in their group last season which qualified them to the final stage, but they only won one of their seven final stage matches and ended up finishing in eighth place. They have made a few good signings in the shape of Al-Shorta defender Waleed Bahar and Al-Samawa’s Amir Mithaa as well as some African players and with a few more signings they could be a real force this season, although it may be tough for them to be able to break into the top-eight positions as they did last season.
Best ever finish: 5th (2010/11, 2011/12)
Last season’s finish: 9th
Our predicted finish: 8th
The 2015/16 campaign was a heart-breaking one for Zakho. All they needed to do in their last group match, against Amanat Baghdad, was draw. Had they done that, they would have reached the final stage where they would have been able to contend for the league championship. Unfortunately for Zakho, they conceded a 96th-minute penalty to their opponents which lost them the game 2-1 and pushed them down to fifth place in their group as they missed out on the next round. This should be inspiration for them to come back stronger this season and their signings of Hatem Zidan from league champions Al-Zawraa and Salvadoran forward Néstor Renderos will certainly help them in doing so. Zakho have maintained an average position of eighth in the past six seasons and we can see them finishing there or thereabouts once again this time around.
Best ever finish: 5th (1989/90, 1990/91, 1994/95, 1995/96, 2015/16)
Last season’s finish: 5th
Our predicted finish: 7th
Al-Naft were definitely the surprise package of last season. They challenged Al-Zawraa and Naft Al-Wasat all the way in their first group and recorded wins over the likes of Al-Talaba, Al-Minaa and Al-Shorta over the course of the season to finish in fifth position, just one season after finishing 16th and being lucky to avoid relegation. Their great season saw them win the “Team of the Year” award ahead of undefeated Al-Zawraa and saw two of their players make the “Team of the Season”; their manager Hassan Ahmed also received the “Manager of the Season” award jointly with Basim Qasim (Al-Zawraa’s coach). It will be extremely difficult for the Greens to replicate their amazing 2015-16 campaign but they have a strong squad that should see them finish quite high in the league. They have a strong defence with the likes of full-back Hussam Kadhim and defensive midfielder Kassim Zidan giving them one of the best defensive records in the league last season and their strikeforce includes Iraq internationals Ayman Hussein and Mazen Fayadh, so we expect them to do well again this season.
Best ever finish: 1st (1980/81, 1981/82, 1985/86, 1992/93, 2001/02)
Last season’s finish: 3rd
Our predicted finish: 6th
Al-Talaba finished third last season, their highest position for six years, but they certainly rode their luck while doing so. They finished fourth in their first group, winning less than half of their games and finishing just three points above Naft Maysan, before losing their opening game of the final stage against a weak Al-Shorta side. It was only thanks to a win over Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya that they managed to achieve third place. The departure of their top scorer Abdul-Qadir Tariq, who has signed for their rivals Al-Shorta, will be a massive blow to the Students, but the recent news that Younis Mahmoud (arguably Iraq’s best ever striker) will continue playing for the club next season has been a big boost for the Elegants. Al-Talaba have been very busy in the transfer market so far but have yet to effectively replace Tariq, after a move for Mustafa Kareem fell through. Also, the fact that they have added around 20 players to their squad this summer (including three foreigners) might be a disadvantage as the new players will need time to get to know each other and to gel. They have a strong squad but we think it is unlikely that they will be able to reach as high as they did last time out.
Best ever finish: 1st (1977/78)
Last season’s finish: 6th
Our predicted finish: 5th
Al-Minaa are entering this season off of the back of two fairly good seasons in which they finished fourth and then sixth. They have lost two of their top players in the form of defender Ali Bahjat, who has joined Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya, and Ammar Abdul-Hussein, who has joined Al-Zawraa, but they have managed to secure the services of midfielder Hussein Abdul-Wahid from Zakho, and completed loan deals for forwards David Rugamas and Ricardo Ferreira Da Silva from the Salvadoran Primera División. If they manage to keep hold of Ali Husni, one of Iraq’s brightest young midfielders, for the duration of the season, then they will be very dangerous going forward, especially since their top scorer Mohammed Jabbar Shokan recently renewed his contract at the club. The Basra-based club have a new manager by the name of Marin Ion, a Romanian who has managed clubs such as Dinamo Bucharest in the past and who most recently managed Zakho last season. The Sailors have one of the strongest squads in the league and they should be aiming high this season.
Best ever finish: 1st (1979/80, 1997/98, 2002/03, 2012/13, 2013/14)
Last season’s finish: 7th
Our predicted finish: 4th
For a team who recently won the league twice, Al-Shorta were very disappointing last season, finishing seventh. However, they have made some very good signings in the summer transfer window. They have signed two of the top strikers in the Iraqi Premier League, Abdul-Qadir Tariq and Jassim Mohammed, and have also secured the services of Iraq international midfielders Saif Salman, Amjad Waleed and six-time league winner Hussein Abdul Wahid. Their impressive defensive acquisitions include Iraq international Essam Yassin from Naft Al-Wasat, experienced Egyptian player Ahmed Magdy and the ever-impressive Syrian centre-back Hamdi Al-Massri, while they have also managed to complete the transfers of Iraq’s best centre-back, Ahmed Ibrahim, and legendary goalkeeper Noor Sabri (to replace the outgoing Jalal Hassan). On top of all of this, their new manager is Mohamed Youssef, who has experience managing in the Iraqi Premier League and recently coached Al-Ahly to the CAF Champions League title which qualified them for the FIFA Club World Cup. Al-Shorta look strong and should be aiming to win the league this season, but it won’t be easy to finish ahead of our predicted top three. If they don’t win the league, they should at least aim to lift their first ever Iraqi FA Cup.
Best ever finish: 1st (2014/15)
Last season’s finish: 2nd
Our predicted finish: 3rd
Naft Al-Wasat were in the lower division just over two years ago but they have taken Iraqi football by storm since then, winning the league in 2014/15 (their first ever season in the top-flight) and then coming ever so close to retaining their title the following campaign. They have made some great signings so far, including Iraq international goalkeeper Jalal Hassan from Al-Shorta, Syrian defender Moayad Ajan from Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya and Mohammed Khalid Jaffal from Erbil, one of the best attacking players of the 2015/16 season. They have also recruited midfielder Amjad Attwan from Al-Shorta who was one of the stars of the Iraqi Olympic Team in Rio, and they have a new manager, Abdul-Ghani Shahad, who was their manager two seasons ago when they won the league. However, they have also sold a lot of their top-performing players from last season. Four of their players have joined Al-Shorta, while Halgurd Mulla Mohammed, the brother of Hawar, has joined Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya. The Euphrates Nightingales have managed to keep hold of star striker Mustafa Kareem and have recruited Iraq’s current first-team goalkeeper Mohammed Hameed; they have a very strong squad and with a few additions they could certainly win the league again, but they will face tough competition and we predict that they will miss out on the title.
Best ever finish: 1st (1974/75, 1989/90, 1991/92, 1996/97, 2004/05)
Last season’s finish: 4th
Our predicted finish: 2nd
Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya have recently been underachievers when it comes to the league. Since the 2004/05 season (the last time they won the league), they have only finished outside the top four twice, and have never finished lower than sixth. That means that they have finished in the top four nine times in the past 11 seasons, and yet have failed to win the league in every single one of those campaigns. They will be entering the season with high confidence though, having won the 2015/16 Iraqi FA Cup by defeating league champions Al-Zawraa 2-0 in the final, and have made some top-notch signings in the transfer window. Not only have they secured the services of players like Ali Bahjat, Halgurd Mulla Mohammed, Ibrahim Naeem and Zaher Midani, but they have also re-signed Amjad Radhi, a striker who has scored 116 goals in the Iraqi Premier League in his career. Radhi will form a deadly partnership with fellow striker Hammadi Ahmed, the joint top scorer of the league last season and a man who has bagged 94 Iraqi Premier League career goals himself (he is also the current top scorer in the 2016 AFC Cup having scored in every single game so far). Supplying those strikers will be two of the brightest youngsters Iraqi football has to offer (Bashar Rasan and Humam Tariq) while their defence includes the impressive Samal Saeed and Saad Natiq as well as usually reliable goalkeeper Fahad Talib. To top all of that off, their new manager is none other than Basim Qasim, the man who led Al-Zawraa to the league title last season without a single defeat. This could well be the Falcons’ year, but will they be able to overtake Al-Zawraa?
Best ever finish: 1st (1975/76, 1976/77, 1978/79, 1990/91, 1993/94, 1994/95, 1995/96, 1998/99, 1999/00, 2000/01, 2005/06, 2010/11, 2015/16)
Last season’s finish: 1st
Our predicted finish: 1st
Al-Zawraa won the league last season without losing a single one of their 24 matches. Their squad is full of Iraq internationals and they had four players make the “Team of the Season” last campaign. Their striker, Mohannad Abdul-Raheem (the league’s joint-top scorer last season), is considered by most to be the best striker in Iraq at the moment and he is on high confidence having just scored a brilliant goal for Iraq against Saudi Arabia in World Cup Qualifying. The Gulls have made a few signings so far including Iraq international defender Abbas Qasim from Zakho, fellow international midfielders Ahmed Fadhel and Ammar Abdul-Hussein, and Honduran defensive player Luis Ramos. They have said goodbye to Syrian player Zaher Midani who has joined Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya, but perhaps the biggest departure from the club is their manager Basim Qasim. Not only has he left, but he has gone to their biggest rivals, Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya. Al-Zawraa have replaced him well though, appointing Thair Ahmed who has won the league three times as a coach and most recently managed Naft Al-Wasat. The key to Al-Zawraa’s success is that their squad is strong all around the pitch; they have a top goalkeeper in Mohammed Gassid and quality defenders in the shape of Alaa Mahawi (Iraq’s new first-choice right-back), Karrar Mohammed and the aforementioned Luis Ramos, while their midfield includes the ever-impressive Ahmed Fadhel and club legend Haidar Sabah, not to mention Hussein Ali who won the Iraqi Premier League’s “Young Player of the Season” award last campaign. Alongside Mohannad up front is the Iraqi national team’s current captain Alaa Abdul-Zahra as well as five-time league winner Luay Salah. Al-Zawraa look stronger than ever and we can only see one winner this season.