- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 30, 2008

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) | The International Olympic Committee ruled Tuesday that Iraq could participate in the Beijing games, reversing itself after Baghdad pledged to ensure the independence of its national Olympics panel.

The decision followed last-minute talks between Iraqi officials and the IOC ahead of Wednesday’s deadline to submit competitors’ names for track and field events. The Olympics begin Aug. 8.

Iraq’s National Olympic Committee was dissolved by the Baghdad government in May, prompting the IOC to suspend the country from the Olympics for political interference.

The IOC had insisted the old committee be reinstated even though four members were kidnapped two years ago. Their fates remain unknown.

A compromise was worked out after mediators from Germany and China became involved in talks, and Iraq pledged to hold free elections for its national Olympic committee under international observation.

Iraq is expected to send two athletes to Beijing to compete in track and field events. The decision came too late for five other hopefuls in archery, judo, rowing and weightlifting. The deadline to submit names for those sports expired last week.

“The National Olympic Committee will have fair elections before the end of November,” said Pere Miro, head of the IOC’s department for relations with national Olympic committees.

In the meantime Iraq’s Olympic organization will be run by an interim committee proposed by its national sports federations and approved by the IOC, he said.

“We want to forget all the past,” Iraq’s government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said after the agreement was signed. “We want to have real representation for the Iraqi teams and the Iraqi supporters.”

The breakthrough came after eight hours of talks Tuesday at the IOC’s headquarters in Lausanne involving Mr. Miro and Husain al-Musallam, director-general of the Olympic Council of Asia.

Hours before the talks, a delegation of Iraqi groups in Switzerland came to IOC headquarters to deliver a letter to Olympic officials expressing dismay at their country’s suspension and requesting the decision be overturned.

The IOC last suspended Iraq in May 2003 - weeks after U.S.-led troops toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime. That ban occurred after the IOC learned of the abuse of athletes by Saddam’s son Uday, the country’s former Olympic chief.

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