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International Olympic Committee Bans Iraq From Beijing Games

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Sprinter Dana Abdul-Razzaq, is one of Iraq’s most promising Olympics-bound athletes. (Reuters)

The International Olympic Committee confirmed its decision to ban Iraq from taking part in the Beijing Olympics because of the government’s interference with sports by disbanding the country's National Olympic Committee, Reuters reported.

"This morning we were informed of the final decision of the International Olympic Committee to suspend the membership of the Iraqi Olympic Committee," Hussein al-Amidi, the general secretary of the Iraqi Olympic Committee, said.

The decision is a major blow to seven Iraqi athletes who hoped to travel to Beijing this summer, AFP reported.

The IOC had warned of sanctions against Iraq after the country disbanded its Olympic committee and other sports in May.

"In spite of all the joint efforts of IOC and OCA (Olympic Council of Asia), over the last months to find a positive solution with the Iraqi government authorities, we regretfully inform you that the decision of the IOC executive board dated 4 June 2008 to suspend the National Olympic Committee of Iraq is confirmed," AFP reported the IOC letter to Iraq said.

"We deeply regret this outcome which severely harms the Iraqi Olympic and Sports Movement and the Iraqi athletes but which is unfortunately imposed by the circumstances," the letter said.

The IOC decision culminates a drawn-out internal feud in Iraq that many see as an extension of Shiite payback to Sunnis who once held a cozy niche in Saddam Hussein's regime.

In May, the government dissolved the National Olympic Committee. Among the claims was it was illegitimate because it lacked a legal quorum — but four members of the committee, including its chief, were kidnapped two years ago and their fates are unknown.

There's also a potential sectarian rift. Iraq's Youth and Sports Ministry is dominated by Shiites, while the NOC includes several holdovers from the Saddam-era Olympic Committee, run by his feared eldest son, Odai.

The International Olympics Committee denounced the order as "serious interference" in what is supposed to be an independent body and demanded the government respect the NOC's autonomy.

"Clearly we'd very much like to have seen Iraq's athletes in Beijing," IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies said Thursday. "We are very disappointed that the athletes have been so ill-served by their own government's actions."

The Iraqi Olympic team was greeted with a roaring ovation at the opening ceremony of the Athens Games in 2004. That was the country's first Olympics after the fall of Saddam and Odai, who as head of the Iraqi Olympic committee tortured athletes who failed to reach his standards. Iraq's soccer team became one of the feel-good stories of those games when it made a surprising run to the semifinals.

Four Iraqi athletes were expected to compete in non-track and field sports — archery, judo, rowing and weightlifting. Their places will be offered to athletes from other countries.

Iraq's government said after the June 4 suspension it wanted to meet with the IOC "to make its legitimate case."

It said the decision to dissolve the Olympic committee was based on "solid evidence of blatant corruption, lack of legitimate transparent electoral processes and accountability and absence of ratified legislation."

But IOC spokeswoman Davies said Thursday the Iraqi government was asked to Switzerland to discuss possible remedies "but (it) did not positively respond to the IOC's invitation."

She said the suspension destroyed progress made in Iraq's sporting community since the fall of Saddam in 2003.

Iraq's athletes are not the first to miss an Olympic Games because of government interference.

In the most recent case, Afghanistan was prevented from sending a team to the Sydney games in 2000 because of the Taliban regime's intervention in sports administration.

Reuters, AFP and the Associated Press contributed to this report.