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In the letter dated July 23 and addressed to Iraqi Youth and Sports Minister Jassem Jaafar, the IOC said it was moving ahead with a ban first imposed on the country's athletes last month.

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“In spite of all the joint efforts of IOC and OCA (Olympic Council of Asia), over the last months to find a positive solution with the Iraqi government authorities, we regretfully inform you that the decision of the IOC executive board dated 4 June 2008 to suspend the National Olympic Committee of

Iraq is confirmed,” said the letter, a copy of which was obtained by AFP on Thursday.

“We deeply regret this outcome which severely harms the Iraqi Olympic and

Sports Movement and the Iraqi athletes but which is unfortunately imposed by the circumstances.”

IOC suspends Iraq

The IOC suspended Iraq for “political interference” in its national Olympic committee which was sacked in May and replaced by a new panel headed by Jaafar.

It had warned that sanctions could be imposed after the committee and other sports bodies were disbanded.

After the initial suspension it was believed that up to seven Iraqi athletes would still participate in the Games beginning on August 8.

However, the IOC made clear in Thursday's letter that an opportunity for Iraqi athletes to compete under the Olympic flag instead of the national flag was now over.

Bashar Mustafa, Iraq's temporary national Olympic committee deputy chief, expressed disappointment at the IOC ruling, but said he had done his best to redress the matters of concern to the international body.

“We have made great efforts recently to put this crisis behind us and move forward,” said Mustafa, bitterly blaming previous Iraqi officials for the current mess.

“Those who misled the government and gave incorrect information to the Iraqi government will be beholden to history — they will be the responsible for denying Iraqi athletes the chance to participate internationally.”

The IOC did not identify in its letter which issues Iraq had failed to tackle, saying only that they remained unresolved.

“Unfortunately, this letter does not respond to our request as clearly expressed in our communication dated 17 July 2008, and the deadline set for 21 July 2008 has now passed,” it said.

Olympic committee sacked

The Iraqi government had said that the previous Olympic committee was sacked because of “solid evidence of blatant corruption, lack of legitimate transparent electoral processes and accountability.”

It said the committee had an insufficient quorum and had failed to hold elections in more than five years.

In Washington, US President George W. Bush's chief spokeswoman said she was “disappointed” by the IOC decision.

“I'm sure that the Iraqi athletes — who have trained so hard, and were finally going to represent a country that is free, and sovereign, and working to establish its democracy — they have to be terribly disappointed and I'm disappointed for the athletes as well,” said Dana Perino.

The IOC ruling capped a host of Iraqi sporting problems that began after the head of its Olympic committee, Ahmed Al-Samarrai, was kidnapped in July

2006. He has not been heard of since.

World football governing body FIFA also suspended the Iraqi football federation over the issue but rescinded its decision in late May when Baghdad said the suspension of sports bodies did not extend to football.

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