Iraqis thrilled over lifting of Olympic ban

/ Source: The Associated Press

Iraqis were relieved Wednesday after the International Olympic Committee revoked a ban on their country's participation in the Olympics, allowing four of the original seven athletes to compete in Beijing.

The IOC decision came late Tuesday after last-minute talks during which an Iraqi government delegation pledged to hold free elections for its national Olympic committee under international observation.

IOC officials said Iraq would be able to send two track and field athletes to the games, as the deadline for their entry into competitions had not yet passed.

Iraq missed last week's deadline to enter athletes for the rowing, judo, archery and weightlifting competitions.

But on Wednesday, the International Rowing Federation announced that the Iraq men's rowing double will be permitted to participate in Beijing after all.

"We called the IOC and asked if we could have the rowers back and the answer just came through. We're very happy," said Matt Smith, the rowing federation's executive director. "No one is kicked out."

The two rowers, Haidar Nozad and Hamzah Hussein Jebur, were allowed back in the men's double sculls because their places had not been given to competitors from other countries, Smith said.

"We were overwhelmed with pleasure over the news," Jebur said.

Dezso Dobor, a spokesman for the International Weightlifting Federation, said an Iraqi competitor might be placed on standby should an athlete from another country drop out.

Ali Adnan, an Iraqi athlete in archery, potentially has a chance to compete as well.

"If someone withdraws from the competition for whatever reason, then Ali will be the first person to get the place," said Tom Dielen, secretary-general of the International Archery Federation.

Iraq has only one bronze medal since its first appearance at the Summer Olympics in 1948.

But in a country where violence has claimed the lives athletes, coaches and staff, the IOC's rescinding of the ban amounted to an invaluable gift.

"Yesterday's decision is an upbeat one. ... It brought Iraq back to the international sports gathering," said Dr. Talib Faisal, head of the Iraqi Track and Field Association. "We are looking forward to take part in the Olympics."

The IOC suspended Iraq in May citing political interference in the country's national Olympic committee, which the government had dissolved over allegations of corruption.

"We hope that there will be no more black days for the Iraqi sports," said Samir Sadiq al-Moussawi, head of the Iraqi Judo Association on Wednesday.

Pere Miro, head of the IOC's department for relations with national Olympic committees, said Tuesday that Iraq's national Olympic Committee will hold "fair elections" before the end of November.

Until then, Iraq's Olympic organization will be run by an interim committee proposed by its national sports federations and approved by the IOC, Miro said.