Iraqi athletes win last-minute entrance to Games

Basil Abdul Mahdi (l), from the Iraqi Ministry of Youth, and Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh (r) attended the meeting on Iraq's participation in the Beijing Olympics in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Tuesday.

One good thing happened for Iraq this week: It won the right to send a team to the Olympics.

After last-minute negotiations in Switzerland, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Tuesday reversed a decision made this spring to suspend Iraq from participation. While the move comes too late for most of the country’s seven Olympic team members to enter their respective events, the fact that sprinter Dana Hussein and discus thrower Haider Nasir will bear the Iraqi flag in Beijing has boosted spirits in Baghdad.

“Sport is really important for us in Iraq right now,” government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told the Associated Press at the IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland. “It brings the people together.”

Iraq had disbanded its national Olympic committee over allegations of corruption – a move that led the IOC to cite political interference. But Iraqi officials in Lausanne pledged to hold elections for a new committee by November, which apparently satisfied IOC officials enough to clear the way for Iraq’s participation in Beijing.

The deadline for Mr. Nasir and Ms. Hussein, whom the Monitor profiled in April, to be entered in the Games is Wednesday.

IOC President Jacques Rogge said he looked forward to seeing the Iraqi flag in Beijing, praising Iraqi officials for coming to the decision.

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