2 Iraqi Athletes Set for Beijing After IOC Lifts Ban

By Amit R. Paley
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, July 30, 2008

BAGHDAD, July 29 -- Two Iraqi athletes will be allowed to participate in the Beijing Olympics after a last-minute pledge by the Iraqi government Tuesday not to interfere politically in the country's Olympic movement.

The agreement reversed a decision last week by the International Olympic Committee to ban Iraq from competing because of allegations that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had compromised the independence of the national Olympic committee. The government dissolved the panel in May and replaced it with a new group headed by a cabinet minister.

But after negotiations between Iraqi officials and the international committee at its headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, the government agreed to reestablish an independent committee and hold transparent elections for it by November, Olympic officials said. They added that five government representatives could attend the Beijing Games as observers.

"We look forward to seeing the Iraqi flag in Beijing," the president of the international committee, Jacques Rogge, said in a statement.

The decision comes too late for five members of Iraq's seven-person team, because the registration deadline for their sports has passed. The other two athletes -- Dana Hussein, a sprinter, and Haider Nasir, a discus thrower -- will compete in Beijing because track-and-field events have a later registration.

The details of the deal, announced just before midnight in Baghdad, were still unclear. The head of the government-appointed committee learned about the agreement from a reporter and declined to comment.

Haider Ali Lazim, a former Iraqi Olympian and a member of the disbanded panel, was ecstatic.

"I am so thrilled for all the Iraqi athletes," he said.

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