BAGHDAD Just two weeks before the start of the Olympics, Iraq was told Thursday it's not welcome in Beijing because of a political feud in Baghdad that angered the Games' guardians and exiled a country that arrived to a roaring ovation at the opening ceremony four years ago.
The International Olympic Committee told Iraqi sports officials in a letter that it would uphold its ban imposed in June after the government in Baghdad replaced its national Olympic panel with members not recognized by the IOC.
The IOC had called the move unacceptable government interference.
In Iraq, it also smacked of the lingering sectarian bitterness between the new Shiite power brokers and the Sunnis who were once favored under Saddam Hussein whose son, Odai, ran the nation's Olympic committee as a personal fiefdom and was accused of torturing athletes who came up short.
"Clearly we'd very much like to have seen Iraq's athletes in Beijing," said IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies. "We are very disappointed that the athletes have been so ill-served by their own government's actions."
But Davies suggested there was still a possibility for last-ditch talks to salvage Iraq's place before the Games open Aug. 8.
"If there can be some movement and if a resolution can be found, that's still an open door," she told CNN. When asked if there's a window of about a week, she said "Correct."
At the 2004 Summer Games in Athens, the crowd at the opening ceremony rose to its feet as the small Iraqi team entered the stadium for the first Olympics since the fall of Saddam. The team was led by Najah Ali, a 106-pound boxer who carried the red-white-and-green flag.
Iraq's soccer team also became one of the feel-good stories of Athens when it made a surprising run to the semifinals only to be defeated by Italy 1-0 in the bronze-medal game.
This year, at least seven Iraqi athletes were expected to compete in Beijing in sports including weightlifting, rowing and archery. Their spots were given to other nations by the IOC.
Iraqi sports officials reacted with disbelief and outrage as they watched the efforts for Beijing vanish. Iraq has only one medal a bronze in weightlifting in 1960 since its first appearance at the Summer Olympics in 1948.
"Unjust," said Fawzi Akram, a member of the sports committee in parliament. "Iraq is passing through an exception period and should be given special consideration."
In May, Iraq's government dissolved the 11-member National Olympic Committee. Among the claims was that it was illegitimate because it lacked enough members for a legal quorum even though four members of the committee were kidnapped two years ago and their fates remain unknown.
The IOC banned Iraq in June but said it was open for talks. But on Thursday, the IOC said the deadline to open negotiations had run out.