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Uday-free Games

Baghdad, July 25: It is a chilling reminder of the fate that once awaited Iraq’s athletes if they disappointed Uday Hussein, Saddam’s brutal sports-mad son.

As 31 Iraqis prepare for the Athens Games in less than three weeks, the devices used to torture some of their predecessors have been unveiled by Iraq’s new Olympic officials.

Uday, the head of the Iraqi Olympic committee during his father’s regime, forced under-performing sportsmen to wear a suffocating steel mask.

He also set up a torture chamber in the committee headquarters.

Other devices displayed at Al-Shaab stadium in Baghdad include a head-to-toe steel case with internal spikes that would have gouged the victim when the two halves were shut.

Iraq’s athletes are now motivated by pride rather than terror.

“In Athens, we’ll be able to show that Iraq is back,” said Ahmed al-Samarrai, the new Olympic committee chairman.

In the bad old days, footballers were particularly prone to Uday’s violent whims.

Their punishment for failure to win tournaments ranged from having their feet caned to being forced to kick concrete balls.

Uday’s techniques were a failure, with Iraq suffering years of poor results.

Now, however, its footballers have qualified for the Olympics for the first time.

Iraqis marked the achievement by taking to the street sin Baghdad’s biggest celebration since Uday was shot dead and Saddam captured.

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