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  • Iraq Athletes Plant the Flag in Beijing, NOC Awaits Elections


    Iraq parades at the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics. (Getty Images)
    (ATR) A small team of Iraqis plant the flag for their country at the Beijing Olympics while NOC leaders face the challenge of new elections with a wary government watching.

    A team of four athletes, two in athletics, two in rowing, paraded with team officials in the Aug. 8 opening ceremony.

    Chef de mission Tiras Odisho told Around the Rings "it is still important for them to be here, no matter how they finish in the competition".

    There would be no hope for Iraq, however, after their final athlete, discus thrower Haidar Nasser Shaheed, failed to advance to the finals.

    A month ago, there was great doubt whether any Iraqis would be in Beijing, especially when the names of no athletes were submitted by the July 23 deadline.

    It didn’t help that the IOC had suspended the Iraq NOC in June after the government announced the disbanding of the committee leadership, replacing them with hand-picked officials from the Ministry for Youth and Sport.

    Negotiations at the end of July produced an agreement with the government and the IOC that allowed Iraq to send a small squad to Beijing. The agreement calls for elections
    Iraqi rowers Hussein Jebur (front) and Haidar Nozad competing Aug. 9 in the double scull. (Getty Images)
    later this year to elect new leadership for Iraq’s national sports federations, to be followed by a vote for new NOC leaders.

    The two men serving as president and secretary general of the National Olympic Committee of Iraq have been doing
    Iraq chef de mission Tiras Odisho says Iraq still needs investment in sport infrastructure. He talks with leaders of the International Triathlon Union in Beijing. (ATR)
    so on a provisional basis since 2006 when the duly-elected president and secretary general were kidnapped in a brazen raid on a meeting of the NOCI. President Ahmed Al Sammarai and two dozen of his NOC colleagues have not been heard from since.

    This is the second team Iraq has sent to the Olympics following the fall of Saddam Hussein and his son Uday Hussein, who was the leader of the NOC. The IOC suspended that NOC in 2003; it was re-formed in early 2004, in time to allow Iraq to compete at the Athens Games. In 2004, the squad numbered more than 50 as it included the men’s football team, which almost won the bronze medal of the tournament.

    Written by Ed Hula in Beijing.

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