- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 4, 2009

BAGHDAD (AP) - A retired soccer goalkeeper who was once briefly detained by U.S. forces has been elected to head Iraq’s new National Olympic Committee, ending a drama that nearly prevented the country from competing in the Beijing Games.

Raad Hamoudi, who led the Iraqi national soccer team to its only World Cup appearance in 1986 in Mexico, was picked Saturday to serve as chairman of 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.

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.

Chief among the issues Hamoudi will face as head of the committee is the welfare of Iraqi athletes.

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.

“Difficult work lies ahead of us now. We have to work in an exceptional way, with more effort, in order that Iraqi sport can return to what it was,” Hamoudi told reporters after Saturday’s election.

He called the election 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 said he left Iraq in 1998 to get his masters’ degree in Austria, a time when the country was suffering crippling international sanctions and a deteriorating economy. He returned after the 2003 invasion.

Hamoudi told The AP in a telephone interview that shortly after his return to Iraq in mid-2003, he was detained by American forces for three days before he was released.

He refused to elaborate on details about his detention, saying only it was a mistake by U.S. forces.

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

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.

Saturday’s election was overseen by members of the International Olympic Committee. Telephone calls to the IOC’s Switzerland headquarters seeking comment were not immediately returned.


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

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