As the war in Iraq drags on, Americans and remaining coalition nations keep looking for signs that Iraq has turned the corner on assuming control of its destiny.
When more than a dozen Iraqi athletes either qualified for the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing or were invited, this was viewed as a positive turn of events. But with the opening of the Games just two months away, the International Olympic Committee has provisionally suspended Iraq's national Olympic committee for "political interference." This means Iraqi athletes could miss the Beijing Games.
The problem is, the IOC does not recognize an interim committee empaneled after the Iraqi government declared the established committee illegitimate because it could not reach a quorum after four of its 11 members including its chairman were kidnapped in Baghdad in 2006. Their fates are unknown.
The IOC has indicated its willingness to discuss this matter. It is understandable that the IOC is reluctant to work with an interim group assembled by Iraq's minister of sport. Iraq's Youth and Sports Ministry is dominated by Shiites, while the nation's Olympic Committee includes several Sunni holdovers from the Saddam Hussein era. This close to the start of the Games, and given the teeming security concerns involved in the Iraqis' participation under the best of circumstances, the IOC is entitled to be cautious.
Iraq's government should use this opportunity to demonstrate how it can unify the nation. Iraq must find a place at the table for all major sects. The nation's Olympic committee should be made up of people who know about sport, international competition, Olympic ideals and have the best interest of athletes in mind.
The IOC has opened the door to further discussions about this issue, which suggests it is empathetic to the struggles of a nation in the midst of a war. Iraq should make the most of this opportunity by establishing a legitimate national Olympic committee so that qualified athletes and those who have been invited can take part in the Beijing Games, which begin Aug. 8.