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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 January, 2004, 17:57 GMT
Iraq starts race to 2004 Olympics
Iraqi boxers in training
Iraq is expected to qualify in sports such as athletics and boxing
An interim Olympic Committee of Iraq has been elected as a first step towards allowing Iraqi athletes to compete at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Iraq was suspended from the Olympic movement last year following claims that athletes were tortured by Saddam Hussein's eldest son Uday.

The new committee president is Ahmed al-Sammarai, a former army general who defected from Iraq 20 years ago.

The committee's status will be assessed by the International Olympic Committee.

Mr Sammarai promised not to "forget the painful past" and "not let what happened be repeated".

"In front of us is a long and difficult path, but we will work together, despite the limited opportunities and difficult conditions in Iraq," he said.

"We have turned a new leaf, just as the country of Iraq is turning a new page in its history."

Training camps

No women were elected onto the five-member executive but officials said they would meet soon to resolve the issue of women's representation.

The International Olympic Committee will consider whether to recognise the new executive board and lift the suspension at a meeting late next month.

Pere Miro, left, congratulates Ahmed al-Samarrai
Ahmed al-Samarrai (right) has been elected the committee president
The IOC is also organising training camps for athletes who have been identified as the most likely to qualify for the Athens Games.

Iraq was suspended in May after American-led coalition forces moved into the country.

The late Uday Hussein was president of the National Olympic Committee.

The BBC's Barbara Plett, in Baghdad, says he is said to have tortured players who failed to win, ripping out their toenails, or burning their feet in boiling water.

Iraqi athletes are expected to qualify mainly in athletics, swimming, boxing, weightlifting, wrestling and Taekwondo.

Our correspondent said sports in Iraq will take some time to recover from past brutality, as well as more than a decade of UN sanctions.

But Iraqis say the chance to compete without fear is reviving the true Olympic spirit, she added.

The IOC said no-one involved in any abuse by the previous administration would be allowed to hold office in the new structure.

The BBC's Ben Brown
"Iraq's athletes can train for the Olympics without the fear of imprisonment or torture"

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