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[casi] Troops take over Iraqi training pool

US troops take over Iraqi swimmers' pool
By Kamal Taha - BAGHDAD

Iraqi swimmers train in murky Tigris river after being kicked out by US
officials from only Olympic-sized pool in Baghdad.
Iraqi swimmers hoping to make a splash at the world championships in
Barcelona next month are having to train in the murky Tigris River because
the US Army have taken over the only Olympic-sized pool in Baghdad for their
troops, team trainer Faisal Sayed Jaffar said Thursday.

Infantry Sergeant Billy Thierry, who is in charge of the al-Qadissiya pool,
said his orders were that the Iraqi Olympic team were entitled to use the
place only from 6:00 to 8:00 am. "This is totally unfair because most of the
12 members of the Iraqi team are university students. In any case, we need
two three-hour training sessions, one in the morning and one in the
afternoon," Jaffar said.

Jaffar appealed to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and world
swimming's governing body FINA to intervene if they are to get their
training schedule back on track in time for the championships. He said that
when a wave of looting swept the country following the US-led ouster of
Saddam Hussein's regime on April 9, team members rushed to the pool complex
to salvage what they could. "After three weeks of cleaning and repairing the
place, we were kicked out by US officials, who told us not to return,"
Jaffar said. "All attempts by Iraqi officials to recover the pool were in
vain. Hence we have to train in the Tigris even though the conditions are
not suitable," he complained.

Al-Qadissiya's indoor pool in eastern Baghdad was built by a South Korean
firm in 1983 and is the only one with the specifications of sports
competitions, in addition to serving as headquarters for the Iraqi Swimming
Federation. "Training in a river is very different from training in a
swimming pool," Jaffar explained. "There are no walls to turn, the water is
too troubled to regulate movements and the pressure of the water on the body
is totally different. It will be very difficult to compete with the world's
top swimmers." As a result, team members are not always showing up for the
training. "US soldiers are using the only suitable pool we have in Iraq for
their own entertainment. We have become strangers in our own country," said
Omar Faisal, a member of the team.

The swimmers meet every afternoon near al-Ima bridge in northern Baghdad
wearing ordinary shorts and without swimming goggles since Uday Saddam
Hussein, the elder son of the deposed president who headed the Iraqi Olympic
Committee, liked only football and gave nothing to the swimmers. Jaffar said
that after the orgy of looting that swept Baghdad, he saw on street
pavements lots of trunks and goggles that had been tucked away in the
cupboards of the Olympic Committee. "I am asking the International Olympic
Committee and FINA to contact the US government to obtain the departure of
all American soldiers from all Iraqi sports facilities," he added. The
Al-Shaab stadium, where soccer tournaments used to take place, and the
Saddam basketball hall have also been taken over by the Americans.

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