Iraq's soccer team, whose players were brutalized and whose stadium was used as a torture chamber under the regime of Saddam Hussein, qualified yesterday for the Olympics for the first time with a victory over Saudi Arabia.
The 3-1 win in Amman, Jordan, coupled with a 0-0 draw between Kuwait and Oman, gave Iraq a spot in the Aug. 13-29 Athens Games.
Among the teams that did not qualify for the 16-team tournament in Athens were the United States (fourth place in 2000), Cameroon (gold medalist in 2000), Nigeria (gold in '96), Spain (gold in '92) and perennial world power Brazil.
"Simply stated, this is the biggest moment in Iraqi Olympic history," Ahmed Samarrai, the president of the Iraqi Olympic committee, said in a statement.
Gunfire echoed through Baghdad streets and flares and tracer rounds lit the sky as Iraqis celebrated the victory, Agence France-Presse reported.
"Our entire country deserves this incredible win," Hawar Mulla Mohammed, who scored the winning goal, said in a statement. "When the bus pulled into the stadium tonight, we refused to think of anything but winning, and now we are headed to Athens."
The 24-member soccer squad will join at least six other Iraqi athletes -- five male and one female -- in track, boxing, swimming, taekwondo and weightlifting who qualified or were invited by the International Olympic Committee and sports federations. Four Iraqis competed at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
The IOC in February reinstated the Iraqi Olympic panel a year after suspending the agency over allegations that Uday Hussein, one of the former president's sons, used the sports office as a headquarters for torture and corruption.
Soccer players were among the athletes who said they were beaten and otherwise abused when they returned from losses in international events.
"The soccer stadium was the scene of torture under Uday Hussein," David Phillips, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York and an expert on Iraq, said in an interview with Bloomberg News Service.
"The fact that Iraqis can now field a soccer team that displays the full mosaic of their population marks another step in the struggle of Iraq to become a normal country again."
* BASKETBALL: Diana Taurasi and Swin Cash, who helped Connecticut win NCAA championships, were added to the U.S. women's team.
Taurasi, a guard, was the top pick in the WNBA draft, chosen by the Phoenix Mercury. Cash, who won titles with the Huskies in 2000 and 2002, is in her third season with the Detroit Shock.
Players being considered for the final spot on the 12-member team include Ruth Riley, Cheryl Ford, Michelle Snow, Tangela Smith, Tari Phillips, Natalie Williams and Yolanda Griffith.
The U.S. team won't be together again until early August, after the WNBA season is suspended. The United States will play New Zealand in its Olympic opener on Aug. 14.
* SECURITY: Athens security chiefs will begin a four-day simulated exercise today with American officials and advisers from six other countries -- Australia, Britain, France, Germany, Israel and Spain.
The "Olympic Guardian II" exercise will involve about 300 people and examine "counterterrorist response scenarios and management of the consequences" of an attack, a statement said yesterday.
Earlier this month, Greece increased its Olympic security budget to more than $1.2 billion; 70,000 police and soldiers are set to patrol Athens and Olympic-related areas during the Games.
* BUSINESS: Premier Costas Caramanlis warned Greek businesses not to hike prices during the Olympics, promising that government agencies will be on alert during the games to crack down on profiteering.
"For those planning to exploit the Olympic Games . . . we tell them to think again," Caramanlis told parliament.
"We will all be on alert -- ministries, agencies and producers -- to insure that the market is adequately supplied with products of the highest quality and at the best prices."