Olympic tribulations

While the UAE and Oman will be sending female athletes to the Beijing Olympics next month, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are the only two countries who won't be. Some have called for both countries to be banned, but that is not likely to happen anytime soon. Israel has agreed to dismantle a portion of its Separation Wall after the Israeli Supreme Court ruled it infringed on Palestinian farmland. A US Government auditor has called for a halt of American funding of Iraq's development, saying that country has enough money of its own with its projected record oil revenue this year of US$70 billion.

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The question of whether or not Saudi Arabia and Qatar should be banned from the Beijing Olympics next month, for not allowing their female athletes to compete, was posed by Huffington Post blogger David Wallechinsky. As he notes, the United Arab Emirates this year is sending two female athletes to Beijing, the daughters of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and Oman is sending a 16-year-old female athlete. Several of his readers voice doubts about whether banning any country from the Olympics is such a good thing after all. "We shouldn't ban anyone from Olympics," said one reader. "And anyone talking about it should be embarrassed for misrepresenting the letter and spirit of the modern Olympic movement to suit some political preoccupation or other." In related Olympic news: Iraq was finally cleared to compete in the Summer Games after being banned last week because of perceived political interference in its national Olympic committee. Unfortunately, due to various deadlines having past, only two athletes from Iraq will be able to compete in track events. Meanwhile, as athletes from around the world battle it out on the playing fields in Beijing, foreign journalists will find their internet use restricted by the Chinese government, according to the BBC: "Chinese officials say foreign journalists covering the Beijing Olympic Games will not have completely uncensored access to the internet. "A top spokesman said sites relating to spiritual movement Falun Gong would be blocked. Another said other unspecified sites would also be unavailable." Although China promised that it would give foreign journalists unfettered access to the internet when it was bidding for the 2008 Olympics, it has obviously reneged on its pledge. This is not very surprising as the Chinese have some of the most restricted access to the internet in the world due to government censors blocking sites deemed undesirable.

In the ongoing battle between Israel's Supreme Court and the Israeli Government over the path of the barrier wall being built in the West Bank, allegedly to protect Israel from Palestinian attacks, the Israeli defense ministry said it would dismantle a section of the wall in order to ease access of Palestinian farmers to their farmland. Palestinians have been complaining that the wall does not always follow the Green Line, which marks the boundary that separates Israel from the West Bank, and that it often encroaches into Palestinian land and farms. In a not very surprising study, Al-Haq, a Palestinian human rights group, says that both the Fatah and Hamas political groups use torture on each other in their ongoing feud. "The group estimated between 20 per cent to 30 per cent of detainees suffered torture, including severe beatings and being tied up in painful positions, said al-Haq director Shawan Jabarin," reported the BBC.

A US Government auditor is calling for an end to American funding of Iraq's rebuilding effort because of the rising oil revenue that is filling Iraq's coffers. The Los Angeles Times reports from Washington that the auditor projects Iraq's oil revenues to exceed US$70 billion this year alone, compared to earlier estimates of US$30 billion. An Iraqi official has already said that Iraq is capable of funding its development projects with its own money, but the article points out that the Iraqi Government was having a hard time spending all of the money in its annual budgets, though this has been improving over the last several years: "The audit emphasizes, however, that the Iraqi government continues to struggle to spend the money it is accumulating. Because of government inexperience and bureaucratic bottlenecks, the Iraqi government had spent only 2.7 per cent of its capital budget by March 2008, the latest figures available. "The report notes that the Iraqi government has improved in this regard, spending 63 per cent of its capital budget last year, compared with 22 per cent in 2006. But Bowen said the US should focus its reconstruction efforts on helping the Iraqis improve those rates."

Fed up with ongoing links between Pakistan's spy service, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, the US dispatched a top Central Intelligence Agency official this month to Islamabad to confront top Pakistani officials with new information about links between the ISI and militant groups in Pakistan's tribal areas, according to the New York Times. Whether this confrontation will get the Pakistanis to change their behaviour remains to be seen. Although there is no direct link between Pakistani officials and al Qa' eda, they have defended interaction with other militant groups in the country as a way of gathering intelligence.