A historic moment will take place today when a team marches into the stadium under a new Iraq flag for the Opening Ceremonies.
"I call it the happiest moment in my life,'' said Ahmed Assamarai, the president of the Iraq Olympic Committee. "I hope I am not going to cry. But in
Iraq, I believe all the Iraqis will cheer that, for us to show them the Iraqi delegation and their flag.
"This is a special moment in Iraqi lives. After 35 years of fear and after the last 13 years of isolation from the rest of the world, Iraq is moving
ahead. We would be very, very happy to win a medal but our gold medal was received the moment that we qualified for the Olympics to just be in Athens
is our gold medal.''
Perhaps, but the country still faces a long march ahead after today. Following the torture and abuses by Uday Hussein, Iraq's Olympic federation was
reformed shortly after the fall of Saddam Hussein last spring. With money at a premium everywhere for rebuilding, however, the country's sports are
not exactly the number one priority. Team representatives say $98 million is needed just for needed repairs to the nation's stadiums. Right now, Iraq
has $3 million for that need.
Further, not all the athletes are comfortable with Assamarai. He was an Iraqi exile during the Hussein regime, then returned when the Americans ousted
Saddam from power during the war. Some Iraqis are so opposed to Assamarai's association with the United States that he was the target of a failed
assassination attempt this spring. Others are frustrated that the millions of dollars directed for Iraqi athletics and are somewhat unaccounted
Further, Hussein Saeed, Uday's old right-hand man, is in charge of the soccer program and the Olympic committee's vice-president. He has brought in
further people from the Hussein regime to help run the program.
Assamarai did not repudiate Saeed, but he did not exactly embrace him, either.
"Yes, he was among the son of the old regime but he didn't do anything," Assamarai said. "We ask people to bring forth evidence if there is any
evidence, but until now nobody came forward to do that. To run Iraq now, you can't take all the people who were working for the old regime.''
Saeed has said that Iraq should move ahead and stop looking backward at what happened. Assamarai, meanwhile, has proposed a small museum that would
place Uday's torture devices out for public viewing.
"I believe that we can't forget,'' he said. "To at least arrange a museum to let a new generation know the difference between the old regime and the
equipment he was using and the new regime.'
Assamarai said the players are focused enough not to let violence back home distract them from the Olympius.
"They are completely out of the politics and violent situations,'' he said "They understand. They know there is a time they can play and have the hope
that everyone can be together.''