- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 4, 2009

BAGHDAD (AP) - Iraqi sports officials elected a retired goalkeeper to head the country’s new National Olympic Committee on Saturday, bringing an end to a drama that nearly prevented the country from competing in last summer’s Beijing Games.

Raad Hamoudi, a well-known goalkeeper who led the Iraqi national soccer team during the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, will head the new committee tasked with selecting the country’s Olympians.

Iraq’s government disbanded the previous committee last summer, accusing it of corruption and of frequently failing to achieve a quorum because most of its 11 members lived abroad.

The disbanding of the committee drew allegations in Iraq that the Shiite-led government was trying to replace several Sunni holdovers from the Saddam Hussein-era Olympic committee, which was once run by Saddam’s feared eldest son, Odai, who tortured and jailed those whose performances disappointed him.

Since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, athletes have been among those kidnapped and killed in Iraq.

Four members of the previous Iraqi committee, including its Sunni chairman, Ahmed al-Sammarai, were kidnapped in July 2006 amid fierce sectarian violence in the country. Their fates remain unknown.

The International Olympic Committee criticized the government’s decision to disband its national committee as interference in the work of the independent organization and suspended Iraq in May.

A compromise later allowed Iraqi participation in the Olympics, but entry deadlines for some sports had passed and only four athletes were able to compete.

The controversy surrounding the team was in sharp contrast with the Athens Games in 2004, when Iraqi athletes were greeted with a roaring ovation at the opening ceremony _ the first since the war.

Hamoudi said Saturday’s election was an opportunity for transparency.

“I hope the next stage will be a collective leadership, not individual leadership,” he said.

Born in 1953 in Baghdad, Hamoudi rose to stardom in Iraq in the 1970s and was later named captain of Iraq’s national soccer team during the 1980s. He left Iraq in 1998 and returned after the 2003 invasion, later creating a non-governmental sports organization. It has since been dissolved.

Hamoudi currently heads Iraq’s Police Sports Club and the Iraqi Police Sports Federation in Baghdad.

The International Olympic Committee had said the elections in Iraq would be overseen by a steering committee.

A telephone call to the IOC’s Switzerland headquarters seeking comment was not immediately returned.

Iraqi Sports Minister Jassim Mohammed Jaafar said he was optimistic about the new committee and its ability to return Iraq to the sporting glories it witnessed in the 1970s before Saddam seized control.

___

Associated Press Writer Chelsea J. Carter contributed to this report.

(This version CORRECTS Mexico sted Mexico City site of 1986 World Cup.)


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