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|Free To Compete||
The liberation of Iraq has brought about some of the most inspirational moments from the Summer Olympics in Athens. The removal of the tyrannical regime has given these athletes the freedom to compete without the fear of returning home after the games.
In the past, it was not so great to be an Iraqi athlete. After a loss to Kazakhstan in a 1997 World Cup qualifying game, the members of the men's soccer team were brutally caned on the soles of their feet. Another time, defeated players were dragged on the pavement, ripping their flesh apart, and then forced to jump into raw sewage. Such was the life of a national hero under Saddam.
Now stories are coming out of Greece that validate the fact that the United States and the "coalition of the willing," as President Bush refers to the numerous other countries that helped overthrow Hussein, did the right thing.
Iraqi boxer Najah Ali once avoided fighting for his country. But then an unusual turn of events, starting with Saddam's downfall, put him back in the ring. American Maurice "Termite" Watkins once fought on the undercard of the 1980 Larry Holmes-Muhammad Ali championship fight. Nearly a quarter of a century later, he ended up working as a private contractor for the U.S. forces, this time fighting flies, scorpions, and other pesky bugs. When word got out that Watkins could train fighters, he was recruited to prepare Iraqi boxers for the Summer Games. Najah Ali emerged as the one for Watkins to take to Athens. All week, Ali has worn a shirt with his country's flag emblazoned on the front and the words "Iraq Is Back" written on the back in both Arabic and English.
Thousands of Iraqis filled the soccer stands, waving their country's flag and emotionally cheering on their team. This healthy sense of national pride, enabled by their newfound sovereignty, will lead the way for future generations to handle the responsibilities and reap the benefits of liberty. America has given a great gift to the people of Iraq. Their Olympic athletes are giving hope to their citizens as they struggle to put a democracy together.
Soccer player Raad Shano explained the attitude that fueled his team's surprise showing in the competition by saying, "We search for a smile for our country." For the first time in generations, freedom has given them something to smile about.