17:09 GMT +321 September 2018
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    Iraqis will compete in Beijing

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    MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti commentator Maria Appakova) - Iraqi athletes will go to the Beijing Olympics. Just a minute before the accreditation of athletes was completed, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) came to terms with the Iraqi government.

    However, only two out of seven sportsmen will go to Beijing. This sports story mirrors the contradictions on the Iraqi political scene.

    On June 4, the IOC notified the Iraqi Youth and Sports Ministry of its decision to suspend the activities of Iraq's National Olympic Committee (NOC) because of excessive government interference in its operation. This was after the government had disbanded the old committee and set up a new one headed by the minister of youth and sports.

    The IOC's decision meant that Iraq would not attend the Olympics unless it restored the old committee. This did not happen, and the IOC reiterated its position in late July. Only then did Baghdad decide to talk to the IOC. Missing the Olympic Games would have been a huge disappointment for which the government did not want to be responsible. In the last few days both the athletes and ordinary Iraqis were increasingly angry about the IOC's decision, which they blamed not only on the IOC but also on their own authorities.

    The government argued that the old committee was corrupt; it did not hold elections, and its members could not achieve a quorum during debates. It accused the IOC of interfering in Iraq's domestic affairs. Iraqi officials recalled that the IOC did not take any action against the committee during the rule of Saddam Hussein, when it was headed by his son Uday, although there were far more grounds for concern about its formation and operation at that time. The Iraqis have a point. Indeed, if the IOC is so committed to its principles, why did not it do anything before? But the Olympic officials also have their arguments. They had to act, for the story with Iraq's NOC is not as simple as it seems at first sight.

    There is no quorum at the committee's sessions because four of its members, including the chairman, were abducted by insurgents several years ago, and their fate is unknown. The media reports that the committee's performance is impeded by religious and political differences. Iraq's Youth and Sports Ministry, as well as other agencies, are dominated by Shiites, whereas the old committee consisted mostly of Sunnis, "leftovers" from the Saddam Hussein regime. The conflict of interest was obvious, but it prejudiced the interests of the athletes, who have suffered horrendously - more than a hundred have perished in acts of terror and armed clashes in Iraq in the last few years.

    Those who survived and continued training despite the hardships hoped that participation in the Olympics would help revive Iraqi sports and facilitate the nation's recovery. These hopes were cruelly dashed. Most of the athletes will remain in Iraq and feel bitter. By the time Baghdad and the IOC reached compromise, accreditation of sportsmen was finished for the majority of events. For many Iraqis this has made a mockery of the main Olympic idea of uniting people. Their joy at participation in the Games will be tempered with gloom.

    This is not, of course, Iraq's worst headache. Political differences prevent its government and parliament from functioning normally. Recently parliament yet again failed to pass a bill on local elections scheduled for the beginning of the next year. The Shiites and Sunnis could not persuade the Kurds to reach a compromise on a bill on voting in Kirkuk. The Kurds insist on administering this city and the adjacent region, and hoped to win the elections because of their numerical superiority. But the authors of the latest version of the bill suggested that Kirkuk's local bodies should have quotas for representatives of the city's all ethnic communities.

    Iraqi politicians are also deadlocked over a bill on the distribution of oil revenues. The violence in Iraq is slowly going down, and the national security forces are in better shape, as the American military confirm, but political squabbles in the country may reduce the security achievements to zero.

    The windfall from soaring oil prices will not help Iraq, either. Few people understand where the bulk of this money goes. A considerable amount of foreign aid also disappears in unknown directions. In a recent report Stuart W. Bowen Jr., Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), concludes that Iraq's problems lie in religious and political strife, and the absence of laws on local elections and oil revenues. The situation is paradoxical - the country has the money but its population has no fresh water, electricity, or other necessities.

    In this context overshadowed anticipation of the Olympics is far from the main headache for the country.

    The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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