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Basil Abdul Mahdi, left, a senior adviser from the Iraqi ministry of youth and the Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh arrive for a meeting to try to salvage Iraq's participation in the upcoming Beijing Olympics.
Basil Abdul Mahdi, left, a senior adviser from the Iraqi ministry of youth and the Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh arrive for a meeting to try to salvage Iraq's participation in the upcoming  Beijing Olympics.

IOC lifts Iraq Olympic ban

The IOC allowed Iraq to send a two-athlete team to Beijing in a last-minute deal ending a dispute with the Iraqi government.

ATHENS // The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has allowed Iraq to send a two-athlete team to next month's Beijing Games in a last-minute deal ending a dispute with the Iraqi government. Iraq was banned last week after the government disbanded the country's National Olympic Committee (NOC), a move that angered the IOC. Iraqi government officials met with IOC officials in Lausanne yesterday in a desperate attempt to iron out differences in time to send a team consisting only of two track and field athletes to the Games opening on Aug 8.

Registration deadlines for all other sports had passed. "I commend the government of Iraq for reaching an agreement that serves the long-term interest of Iraqi athletes," the IOC President Jacques Rogge said in a statement. "We have said all along that we want to see Iraqi athletes in Beijing. We look forward to seeing the Iraqi flag in Beijing." The IOC said it was agreed Iraq could send a team to Beijing but added the NOC had to hold new elections.

"The agreement also calls for the transparent and fair election of a new, independent Iraqi National Olympic Committee, no later than the end of November 2008," the IOC statement said. The Iraq government disbanded the NOC in May because of a dispute over how it had been assembled. The IOC gave Iraq a deadline to reinstate the old committee but the government refused to back down. STUNNED The ban had stunned Iraqi athletes who felt they had been treated unfairly after their legitimate qualifications for the Games.

The most recent Olympic suspension involved Afghanistan which was banned in 1999 and missed the Sydney 2000 Olympics. Iraq had initially planned to send a small team despite violence that has killed more than 100 athletes in the country since the 2003 US-led invasion. At least seven Iraqi athletes, two rowers, a weightlifter, a sprinter, a discus thrower, a judoka and an archer, had won places in Beijing.

But the IOC said all but Iraq's athletics spots had been redistributed as deadlines for all other sports had passed. "As a result, the slots for five Iraqi athletes have been redistributed, but two Iraqi athletics competitors will have the opportunity to compete in Beijing," the IOC said. The athletes were saddened by the news. "I heard the news and my participation in Beijing is now impossible," the archer Ali Adnan said. "I don't want to blame anyone. This is my fate and I'm resigned to it."

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