Iraq begins bid for Olympics with a stadium for Baghdad

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The Independent Online

Of all Saddam Hussein's secret plans to defeat the Great Satan and restore Iraq's glory, hosting the 2012 Olympic Games would be the most devious yet.

Baghdad confirmed plans yesterday to build a 100,000-seater stadium. Iraq appears to have stolen a march on Britain, which has not decided yet whether Wembley Stadium should be rebuilt or even if London should bid to host the 2012 Games.

The proposed Baghdad stadium is seen as a clear indication of Iraq's intention to make a bid, although no official announcement has been made. The host nation will be named by the International Olympic Committee in 2005.

Ignoring his star billing in President George Bush's "axis of evil", it seems the Iraqi leader is seeking to return to the international fold by offering an Olympic stadium that meets British standards in toilet facilities. A design brief for the building states that it must reach UK specifications for sanitary equipment as well as electrical systems, fire prevention (useful in bombing raids) and concrete superstructure.

Doubtless from a wish to keep Washington happy, all materials will also have to be tested to American standards. The design brief ensures as well that the best seats in the house are reserved for the dictator. While hoi polloi will have to put up with plastic, "the seats of the VIP platform and the first-class seats should be of very good quality".

Officials have set aside a 1.25m square metre site to build Baghdad's Olympic Sports City in the hope that the lure of track and field can overcome Western antipathy.

The Foreign Office confirmed that changes to the sanctions regime due on 30 May meant British firms would not be barred from bidding for the project. But government support for the two UK firms understood to have expressed an initial interest is highly unlikely – export credit guarantees, in effect public insurance for British companies working abroad, do not apply to Iraq.