Iraq competed in the Confederation Cup last year as champions of Asia [AFP]

Asian Cup holders Iraq were paired with neighbours and arch rivals Iran in the draw for the 16-team Qatar 2011 finals.

The defending continental champions, who had a four month Fifa ban lifted last month, will play in Group D along with World Cup-bound North Korea and United Arab Emirates.

Iraq captured the world's imagination by winning the Asian Cup in 2007 but have struggled since.
 
Iraq were banned in November for the second time in 18 months after the country's Olympic committee disbanded their football association (IFA) and government security forces seized control of the federation headquarters.

Australia, who defected to the Asian competition in 2007 and lost on penalties in the quarter-finals, must face fellow World Cup finalists and Asian heavyweights South Korea in Group C.

India and Bahrain make up the group.

Japan and Saudi Arabia, both three-times winners of the tournament, are in Group B with Jordan and Syria.

Hosts Qatar face Kuwait, China and Uzbekistan in Group A.

Organisers said they expect full houses in the five stadiums and plan to offer "affordable packages" to attract thousands of overseas fans to the expensive gas-rich state.

The event takes place after Qatar find out if their 2022 World Cup bid has been successful.

"I am confident new benchmarks will be set here in Doha next year.

"And one of the main reasons will be because of the players, coaches, referees, officials and fans will be eager to prove the future is Asia," said Asian Football Confederation president Mohammed bin Hamman.

The draw for the 15th Asian Cup was held in the Aspire Academy, the world's largest indoor sports training facility.

Source: Reuters