2018/19 Iraqi Premier League Preview and Predictions

The 45th edition of the Iraqi Premier League is set to kick off on 14th September, and the twenty competing clubs have been improving their rosters for nearly two months in the hope of achieving their targets for the coming campaign. Here, we look at the strengths and weaknesses of each side and predict where they will finish. Click on the name of any club if you want to learn about their team!

Al-Hussein

Best ever finish: 17th (2016/17)
Last season’s finish: 18th
Our predicted finish: 20th

Al-Hussein finished one place away from the drop zone last season; Karbalaa finished behind them on goal difference, but Karbalaa had one of their games counted as a 3-0 loss due to issues with the hiring of their stadium, while Zakho finished two points behind Al-Hussein but had three points deducted for failing to pay one of their players. It was such extreme luck that allowed the Red and Blacks to survive. They went on an horrific run of nine losses in a row at the end of last season and we can see that poor form continuing into this campaign, ultimately culminating in relegation.

Al-Samawa

Best ever finish: 6th (1974/75)
Last season’s finish: 12th
Our predicted finish: 19th

Al-Samawa surprised many last season, reaching their highest position since the very first Premier League season in 1974/75. One of the main reasons for that was the ten goals netted by Hussain Salman, but the striker has moved to Al-Najaf, leaving a void that will be difficult to replace for the Blues. Without Hussein Salman, we don’t believe Al-Samawa have enough firepower in their squad to survive the drop this season.

Al-Diwaniya

Best ever finish: 11th (1993/94)
Last season’s finish: 17th
Our predicted finish: 18th

Al-Diwaniya managed to avoid relegation last season as a newly-promoted side, largely thanks Muhammed Hatem’s ten goals. However, Hatem has now signed for Amanat Baghdad. Al-Diwaniya have replaced him well though by signing Togolese forward Abdul-Rahman Raheem, formerly of Saudi side Al-Ettifaq. They have also recruited former Al-Shorta defender Mohammed Nasser Noumi, who won the league with Naft Al-Wasat in 2015, and such impressive signings should be enough to keep them in the top-flight again.

Al-Karkh

Best ever finish: 3rd (1991/92)
Last season’s finish: Promoted
Our predicted finish: 17th

‘Al-Ghawassa Al-Safraa’ (The Yellow Submarine) were promoted by winning all five of their games in the final round of the lower division, and have added to their existing attacking talent by bringing in Iraq international forward Jawad Kadhim from Al-Naft. The Baghdad-based side will face a tough task to avoid the drop but based on their impressive results in the lower division last season and their quality going forward we think they will be able to survive relegation.

Al-Bahri (Navy)

Best ever finish: 7th (1988/89)
Last season’s finish: 16th
Our predicted finish: 16th

Al-Bahri have done well since returning to the top-flight in 2016. A 14th place finish in 2016/17 was followed by a slightly lower 16th last year, but they have never looked like being relegated. They have managed to retain the services of their star player, former Al-Shorta striker and Iraq international Hussam Ibrahim, and with no notable departures, the Navy should be sailing to survival once more.

Al-Minaa (Port)

Best ever finish: 1st (1977/78)
Last season’s finish: 15th
Our predicted finish: 15th

Al-Minaa are one of only five teams from outside of Baghdad to have won the Premier League title, but financial difficulties and administrative problems have led to the decline of ‘Al-Safana’ (The Sailors) as they failed to win a single one of their last fifteen games. Their best player Ali Husni has moved to Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya, along with three players moving to Al-Zawraa, six players departing to Al-Talaba, two players leaving to Al-Naft and top scorer Mustafa Kareem signing for Al-Najaf in what can only be described as a mass exodus and there can be very few positives for the Basra-based side at this moment.

Naft Al-Wasat (Midland Oil)

Best ever finish: 1st (2014/15)
Last season’s finish: 9th
Our predicted finish: 14th

For a side that was crowned champions of Iraq just three years ago and that has participated in two continental tournaments, Naft Al-Wasat’s 9th place finish last season was a huge disappointment. Had it not been for the 21 goals scored by Alaa Abbas, who has joined champions Al-Zawraa, it could have been even worse for ‘Andaleeb Al-Forat’ (Euphrates Nightingales). They have also said goodbye to their second, third and fourth-highest scorers too, with Mohammad Kassim, Mohammed Saad and Faris Hassoun signing for Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya, Al-Talaba and Al-Najaf respectively. Replacing outgoing defender Ayad Khalaf is former Al-Shorta and Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya centre-back Ayad Sadir, while goalscoring midfielder Bassam Qabel joins from Karbalaa, but aside from these, they haven’t been able to effectively replace their departures and we think they may struggle again.

Naft Al-Junoob (South Oil)

Best ever finish: 5th (2013/14)
Last season’s finish: 10th
Our predicted finish: 13th

Naft Al-Junoob have finished 10th in the past two seasons, and earned some impressive wins last campaign including victories over Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya and Al-Shorta. They have retained the services of Bassim Ali, the striker who has netted 31 goals in total in the past two seasons, as well as fellow striker Mortaga Adel, but have lost African midfielder Papa Koami to Al-Najaf and young starlet Ahmed Jalal to Al-Zawraa. The latter was one of the most important players in the squad, especially as their main creative outlet, and the Sky Blues may miss his presence, leading us to think that they will drop slightly from where they finished last season.

Al-Hudood (Border)

Best ever finish: 12th (2016/17)
Last season’s finish: 13th
Our predicted finish: 12th

The past two seasons have been the best in Al-Hudood’s history, but the loss of their top scorer Ali Hussein Fandi to Amanat Baghdad and midfielder Ibrahim Naeem to Naft Maysan may hurt them. They have however managed to retain the services of two of their best strikers, Rahim Oulabi and Montadhar Adil, and have added 2013/14 Iraqi Premier League winner Karrar Hameed and former Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya man Haider Nino to their strikeforce. Another former league champion in Ayad Khalaf, who won the title with Naft Al-Wasat in 2015, will add defensive steel to a side that should be aiming to break into the top half for the first time in their history, although we think they will miss out.

Al-Sinaat Al-Kahrabaiya (Electrical Industries)

Best ever finish: 11th (2017/18)
Last season’s finish: 11th
Our predicted finish: 11th

This small Baghdad-based side surpassed everyone’s expectations last season, finishing two points away from the top half in their first ever season in the Premier League. Midfielder Manar Taha and forward Ali Rasheed scored a combined 23 goals last season, but they have both left to join Naft Maysan and Al-Najaf respectively. However, they have replaced the goalscorers well by purchasing Ali Saad from Al-Naft, who scored 14 goals in the 2016/17 season, and Aqeel Khairi who spent part of last season at fellow Baghdad side Al-Shorta. One of their best signings is Ghanaian midfielder Akwetey Mensah who, despite being 35 years old already, has proven to be one of the best foreign players to grace the league in the past few years, playing regularly for the likes of Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya, Al-Minaa and Al-Shorta, and the Whites should have another decent season.

Amanat Baghdad (Baghdad Municipalities)

Best ever finish: 3rd (2013/14)
Last season’s finish: 7th
Our predicted finish: 10th

As per usual, Amanat Baghdad’s downfall last season was their lack of goals, with only the bottom three sides scoring less than them. It was a similar story in the 2016/17 season too as they scored only 26 times that campaign. But their defence is, and has always been, very solid, and is the reason why Amanat Baghdad haven’t finished lower than 8th since 2009/10. They have recruited former Al-Shorta midfielder Ali Hussein Fandi, who scored nine goals last season, which could help them with their poor goalscoring record, but similar signings in the past few seasons haven’t been able to make a major impact in the goalscoring department and we think it could hinder ‘Asood Al-Asima’ (The Lions of the Capital) once again.

Erbil

Best ever finish: 1st (2006/07, 2007/08, 2008/09, 2011/12)
Last season’s finish: Promoted
Our predicted finish: 9th

Four-time champions Erbil have returned to the league after having to withdraw from the 2016/17 season due to financial difficulties. They have made a statement of intent with a number of impressive signings, bringing in Arkan Ammar (who was recently called up for the national team) from Al-Talaba, promising youngster Mohammed Khalid Jaffal from Al-Minaa and Iraq international midfielder Miran Khesro, formerly of Al-Shorta. It is difficult to predict where ‘Al-Qalaa Al-Safraa’ (The Yellow Castle) will finish, but purely based on the level of their squad, Erbil should be finishing in the top half this season.

Al-Najaf

Best ever finish: 2nd (1995/96, 2005/06, 2008/09)
Last season’s finish: 6th
Our predicted finish: 8th

One of Iraq’s most well-supported clubs, ‘Ghizlan Al-Badieh’ (The Desert Gazelles) impressed last season, reaching their highest position since they agonisingly missed out on the title on penalties in 2008/09. The Blues had Farhan Shakor to thank for 14 of their 51 goals, with Sajad Raad, Amjad Attwan and Jabbar Karim chipping in with a combined 20 goals themselves. However, all four players have left the club in this transfer window along with their best defender Mustafa Nadhim, all moving to sides that finished above the Blues last season. They have done their best to replace their four top scorers, bringing in 2014/15 Iraqi Premier League winner Faris Hassoun, as well as Al-Samawa’s Hussein Salman (who scored ten times last season), Amjad Kalaf’s nephew Ahmed Salam, Ali Rasheed from Al-Sinaat Al-Kahrabaiya, Al-Zawraa veteran Amir Sabah and Kingsley Sokari from the Tunisian League. They should have another decent season but it is very hard to imagine a team improving after losing their four highest goalscorers in one go.

Al-Kahrabaa (Electricity)

Best ever finish: 5th (2017/18)
Last season’s finish: 5th
Our predicted finish: 7th

Al-Kahrabaa were another side that raised eyebrows last season with an impressive fifth place finish, the highest in the club’s 17-year history. A third of their goals were netted by 36 year-old striker Abou Kone who, despite his advancing age, remains one of the league’s deadliest forwards. The Oranges may have lost one of their other top strikers in Karrar Hameed, who moved across the capital to Al-Hudood, but the majority of their squad remains the same and we can expect another good season from the Baghdad-based side.

Al-Talaba (Students)

Best ever finish: 1st (1980/81, 1981/82, 1985/86, 1992/93, 2001/02)
Last season’s finish: 14th
Our predicted finish: 6th

Five-time champions Al-Talaba were plagued with financial difficulties last season, leading them to a disappointing 14th place finish. However, they have had one of the best transfer windows in the league. They signed defensive trio Ali Lateef, Nabeel Sabah and Ahmed Mohammed from Al-Shorta, as well as signing talented striker Abdul-Qadir Tariq to a permanent deal. Coming from the champions Al-Zawraa are veteran defender Salam Shakir, Al-Shorta legend Amjad Kalaf, experienced midfielder Haidar Sabah and talented striker Mustafa Jawda, while goalkeeper Mohannad Qasim joins from Al-Najaf and Iraq international midfielder Saif Salman has also signed for ‘Al-Aneeq’ (The Elegant). The new players will need time to gel but based purely on the players in the squad, the Baghdad giants have enough to return to prominence next season.

Naft Maysan (Maysan Oil)

Best ever finish: 8th (2017/18)
Last season’s finish: 8th
Our predicted finish: 5th

‘Soqoor Al-Mamlaka’ (The Falcons of the Kingdom) enjoyed their best ever season in 2017/18, mainly thanks to their midfielder Wissam Saadoun bagging 24 goals to earn himself the Golden Boot. The club have managed to maintain his services, while at the same time recruiting 18-goal midfielder Manar Taha from Al-Sinaat Al-Kahrabaiya, former Al-Shorta and Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya midfielder Ibrahim Naeem and experienced goalkeeper Saqr Ajeel. Naft Maysan have it in them to do even better next season and with two of the league’s top scorers in their ranks, we think they can do exactly that.

Al-Naft (Oil)

Best ever finish: 2nd (2016/17)
Last season’s finish: 3rd
Our predicted finish: 4th

Hassan Ahmed has transformed Al-Naft from a mid-table, at times even relegation-battling, club to one of the four best teams in the country. They followed up their runners-up finish of 2016/17 with a third place finish last year, although it did come with some luck as a 1-1 draw with Al-Samawa was awarded as a 3-0 win due to their opponents fielding an ineligible player, with the extra two points allowing them to overtake Al-Shorta. They have replaced outgoing forward Ali Saad with Farhan Shakor, knowing that striker Ayman Hussein may also leave the club in the next few days. Replacing goalkeeper Mohammed Gassid is Ali Abdul-Hassan from Al-Talaba, with defenders Mustafa Mohammed and Herdi Siamand also incoming. Two of Iraq’s brightest young forwards Mazen Fayyadh and Mohammed Dawood complete their squad which, despite not being as well-known as the top three’s sides, has experience playing together under an effective and successful system implemented by Hassan Ahmed and the Greens should be looking at another top four finish.

Al-Zawraa

Best ever finish: 1st (1975/76, 1976/77, 1978/79, 1990/91, 1993/94, 1994/95, 1995/96, 1998/99, 1999/2000, 2000/01, 2005/06, 2010/11, 2015/16, 2017/18)
Last season’s finish: 1st
Our predicted finish: 3rd

Al-Zawraa had a quite stunning 2017/18 season, first winning the Iraqi Super Cup and following it up with their 14th title, clinching the league with two games to spare and an impressive 88 points. In defence, they have said goodbye to three of their key men in Haidar Abdul-Amir, Salam Shakir and Ali Rehema but have replaced them with 32 year-old Samal Saeed and 22 year-old Hamza Adnan. They have lost arguably their best player in Hussein Ali, with the young star moving to Qatar, but have done their best to replace him like-for-like, bringing in fellow young midfielder Ahmed Jalal from Naft Al-Junoob who has gained a reputation as one of Iraq’s brightest prospects. Up front, ‘Al-Nawaris’ (The Gulls) have lost Amjad Kalaf and Luay Salah but brought in great replacements in Alaa Abbas (who netted 21 times for Naft Al-Wasat last season) and Marwan Hussein, a former Iraqi Premier League Golden Boot winner. The Whites look strong once again but without the creativity of Hussein Ali and the experience of the Shakir-Rehema centre-back duo, Iraq’s most decorated club may not be able to repeat their scintillating success of last season.

Al-Shorta (Police)

Best ever finish: 1st (1979/80, 1997/98, 2002/03, 2012/13, 2013/14)
Last season’s finish: 4th
Our predicted finish: 2nd

The 2017/18 season was one of heartbreak for ‘Al-Qeetharah’ (The Harp). Despite early optimism and an impressive 36 points from their first 42, Al-Shorta unexplainably collapsed in the final minutes of key games, missing last minute penalties against Al-Hussein and Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya but more alarmingly conceding late goals (85 to 95 minutes) in eight different matches, even conceding twice in the same injury time against both Naft Al-Junoob and Al-Samawa. Pundits said all season that their biggest weakness was their midfield with the Greens regularly fielding 35 year-old Akwetey Mensah and 33 year-old Hussein Abdul-Wahid, and the club seem to have listened, strengthening their midfield significantly with the addition of Iraq internationals Amjad Attwan and Saad Abdul-Amir, and also shoring up their defence by signing Mustafa Nadhim. Most importantly though, Al-Shorta have kept hold of their deadly strike duo Alaa Abdul-Zahra and Mohanad Ali who combined to net 39 goals last season. If the club can avoid administrative problems and provide their Montenegrin coach Nebojša Jovović with the platform to work freely, we could be seeing the Baghdad giants add a sixth league title to their cabinet, although it will be tough to outfox our predicted champions.

Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya (Air Force)

Best ever finish: 1st (1974/75, 1989/90, 1991/92, 1996/97, 2004/05, 2016/17)
Last season’s finish: 2nd
Our predicted finish: 1st

‘Al-Soqoor’ (The Falcons) finished last season as runners-up under Radhi Shenaishil, and have done some excellent business in the transfer window. Iraq international defender Saad Natiq returns to the club while exciting midfielders Mohammad Kassim and Ibrahim Bayesh come in from Naft Al-Wasat and Al-Zawraa respectively. Another addition to their midfield is Senegalese player Dominique Mendy, one of the best players at the 2017 Arab Club Championship, but their main signing is Ali Husni, one of the league’s best wingers and a perfect replacement for Humam Tariq. The club’s strikeforce needs no introduction – the experienced duo of Amjad Radhi and Hammadi Ahmad netted 39 goals together last season, while new manager Basim Qasim should be able to get the best of their third striker Emad Mohsin, as he did in 2016/17, in a way that Radhi Shenaishil wasn’t able to. Basim Qasim could be the club’s biggest coup himself – he returns from what most people would describe as a fairly successful spell in charge of the national team, which followed consecutive league titles with Al-Zawraa and Jawiya, losing only once in his past 66 league games as a coach. If he can get the Falcons playing like they did two seasons ago, we think they could be a touch ahead of their Baghdad rivals in the race to bring home the famous golden shield.