BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq’s national team will play on home soil on Friday for the first time since 2002 as the security situation in the country appears to be improving after years of chaos.

Tareq Ahmed, a senior official in the Iraqi Football Federation, said Tuesday that Iraq will play two friendly matches against Palestine — the first on Friday in northern Iraq, and the second next week in Baghdad.

“This is another sign that the security situation is getting better,” Ahmed said in a telephone interview. He added that he expected a huge turnout by fans “who are eager to see their national team playing inside Iraq.”

The Iraqi players have flown to the northern city of Irbil, the capital of Iraq’s self-governing Kurdish region that will host the first match, Ahmed said.

Ahmed said Iraqi coach Nathem Shaker will take charge of Iraq against Palestine after the contract of Serbian coach Bora Milutinovic expired at the end of the Confederations Cup in South Africa.

Iraq also plans to play Tanzania in Baghdad in August.

Iraq last played a home game on July 22, 2002, when it beat Syria 2-1 in Baghdad. The country sank into chaos after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, but has made sharp gains in security after years of insurgent attacks and sectarian violence.


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