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Four Iraqi Athletes Now Going To Beijing Games

National Iraqi Olympic Committee headquarters in Baghdad
BAGHDAD -- Four Iraqi athletes will go to the Beijing Games, organizers have said, up from an initial two allowed to take part when the International Olympic Committee lifted a ban on Iraq's participation two days ago.

Iraq's sports minister, however, said six of Iraq's seven-member team had been confirmed to take part, and talks were under way to secure a place for the seventh. The reason for the discrepancy in the numbers was not immediately clear.

"A double-sculls crew will compete under the Iraqi flag at the 2008 Beijing Games. This welcome news brings the Iraqi team up to four, including a sprinter and a discus thrower," the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said in a statement on its website.

The IOC said on July 29 that only the sprinter and discus thrower could compete in Beijing because spots for other events had already been redistributed to other national teams.

Iraq's rowing spots at the games had been given to North Korea, but the IOC said it had declined the places, allowing the Iraqi rowers to compete.

It was unclear whether Iraq had persuaded North Korea to return the spots, but Youth and Sports Minister Jasim Muhammad Ja'far said Iraq was in touch with foreign sports bodies.

"So far, six members of the Iraqi Olympic team will go to Beijing, and I believe the seventh will also take part. We are in contact with sports federations of other countries and I believe all seven will take part," Ja'far told Reuters.

Political Interference

The IOC had last week banned Iraq for what it considered "political interference" in its Olympic Committee, and last-ditch talks to overturn the decision have been an emotional roller coaster for Iraq's athletes.

"I'm very happy with this decision, thanks to God, our efforts have not gone to waste. I truly thank all those who worked to make this happen. I thank all the Iraqi Olympic officials and the government," rower Haider Nauzad told Reuters.

Iraq's government said it had disbanded the Olympic Committee in May because it lacked a quorum and had failed to hold new elections. The IOC gave Iraq a deadline to reinstate the body or face an Olympic ban, but the government did not back down.

On July 31, the IOC said Iraq would be allowed to compete on the condition the Olympic Committee hold new elections by the end of November.

Apart from two rowers, a discus thrower and sprinter, Iraq hopes to send a judoka, an archer, and a weightlifter to the Beijing Games, which open on August 8.