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Here’s how Russian athletes were unfairly banned from the Olympics

Problems with WADA’s McLaren Report are too big to be ignored whilst the whole chain of events points to a set up.

Rick Sterling

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With the Rio Summer Olympics starting on August 5, there is huge controversy about Russian participation.  On the basis of the report of the so called Independent Person (IP) headed by a Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren (further called McLaren Report), the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has recommended to impose a blanket ban on all Russian athletes, barring them from the Rio Games.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC), however, did not go with this recommendation 100 percent, delegating the final decision on individual athletes to sports’ federations and to a panel of three people appointed by the IOC. Dozens of athletes out of the 387 strong Russian Olympic team, however, are already barred from the competitions. The heaviest losses were inflicted by the International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF), which banned all Russian track and field athletes, including those who never failed any doping tests, in Russia or outside it.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has been under heavy pressure to ban all Russian athletes from the Rio Olympics. The New York Times has carried many reports and editorials.  The Daily Mail in London went so far as to publish a front page story falsely claiming the “entire Russian team banned from Olympics” two days before the IOC’s  decision to the contrary.

Some Canadian and American athletes and sports associations launched campaigns to exclude all Russian athletes. This was condemned by the President of the European Olympic Committees. Here is what he said: “I have to question on what authority the US and Canadian anti-doping agencies prepared their letter and what mandate they have to lead an international call for a ban of another nation in the Olympic family.”

SO, HOW DID WE GET HERE?

The following time-line shows the sequence of events. 

* February 2014 – Winter Olympics was held in Sochi, a city in southern Russia.

* December 2014 – German TV network ARD showed a documentary alleging widespread Russian doping violations including during the Sochi Games.

* January 2015 – World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) established Independent Commission to look into allegations in the ARD documentary.

* November 2015 – WADA’s Independent Commission published 300+ page report asserting (but not documenting) some “widespread” use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) in Russian athletics. The report recommends the prohibition of numerous athletes, coaches and trainers. It identifies the former director of Moscow-based anti-doping lab, the future defector Grigory Rodchenkov, as being “at the heart of the positive drug test cover-up.” The Commission even recommends Mr.Rodchenkov to be permanently removed as director and his laboratory be to be de-certified (several months later McLaren’s report will call Mr. Rodchenkov “a truthful, honest man”).   

* The end of 2015 – Dr. Rodchenkov without problem leaves Russia and goes to USA with support from  an American filmmaker Bryan Fogel and other supporters of the idea of pervasive nature of “Russian doping program.”

* Early May 2016 – American TV program “Sixty Minutes” broadcast Bryan Fogel’s report on Russian doping while the New York Times published articles about Russian doping, which were based on Rodchenkov’s allegations.

* 19 May 2016 – WADA appointed Richard McLaren to investigate media allegations.

* 17 June 2016 – Influenced by a confidential letter from McLaren, the IAAF decided to ban all Russian track and field athletes from the upcoming Rio Olympic Games

* 16 July 2016 – WADA published the Mclaren report.

* 24 July 2016 – International Olympic Committee decided against banning all Russian athletes. Instead, the IOC imposed unique requirements on all Russian athletes, making them fit the criteria which other athletes were not required to fit (such as NEVER failing their previous doping tests and getting an approval of their candidacies by individual sports federations and a special panel of three members).

PROBLEMS WITH THE MCLAREN REPORT

The McLaren Report, released on July 16, has strongly influenced media reports, public opinion and official decisions regarding Russian participation in the Olympics. 

The purpose of Mr. McLaren’s (named an “independent person” in the official documents) investigation was to establish whether there has been Russian manipulation of the doping control process, how it was done, which athletes might have benefited, whether it was happening in the Moscow Laboratory somewhere else.

Following are significant problems with McLaren’s report:

* The report relies primarily on the testimony of the chief culprit, Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov.  While it is possible that Rodchenkov was indeed telling the truth when answering McLaren’s questions, it is also possible that he was lying or misleading to redirect responsibility away from himself.  Rodchenkov has a strong interest in portraying himself as ‘just following orders’.  The report says there is extensive documentation that corroborate Rodchenkov’s claims, but these “documents” have never been shown to the public, so believing or not believing Rodchenkov is a matter of faith. Where is the evidence?

* The report concludes that Rodchenkov is credible and truthful with little demonstrated proof.  In contrast, the November 2015 Independent Commission report concluded that Dr. Rodchenkov was not credible. The fact that Rodchenkov knew techniques of manipulating test results is not evidence of “state controlled doping program,” especially since he was the main culprit. The information spread in previous reports on Russian doping that Rodchenkov was involved in extorting money from athletes – this information suggests opportunism on his part rather than integrity. The former director of Moscow Laboratory has admitted his involvement in urine sample swapping, design of a steroid cocktail not easily traced, and more. He was instrumental in helping some athletes cheat the system. He is also the person with most motivation to implicate others, even if unjustly.  His testimony obviously needs careful scrutiny and cross-checking.

* The investigation did not hear the factual corrections or counter-arguments of Russian authorities.  McLaren says: “The IP did not seek to interview persons living in the Russian Federation …. I did not seek to meet with Russian government officials and did not think it necessary…”  Since the Russian Ministry of Sport and other agencies are accused of serious violations in this report, such words provide strong evidence of bias on Mr. McLaren’s part. It is a basic standard of fairness to hear from the accused.

* The investigation excluded a written rebuttal supplied by one of the accused Russian individuals.  McLaren says: “I also received, unsolicited, an extensive narrative with attachments from one important government representative described in this report. In the short span of 57 days that I was given to conduct this IP investigation it was simply not practical and I deemed such interviewing would not be helpful.” (Page 21)  Since one of the main purposes of the investigation was to determine the truthfulness of Rodchenkov’s accusations, this decision to not consider the ‘unsolicited’ information is shocking. It should have been mandatory to evaluate the arguments and information coming from al sources, including the Russian side.  

* There are inconsistencies in the description of how urine sample bottles were associated with an individual athlete. As reported by Sports Integrity Initiative, “The IP report appears to contain two different versions – both from Rodchenkov – about how ‘protected’ Russian athlete samples were made recognizable at the laboratory.”

* There are inconsistencies in the description of how ‘protected’ Russian athlete samples were identified, separated and then delayed in shipping to the laboratory.  As identified by Sports Integrity Initiative, “The IP Report and IO Report contain conflicting accounts of how samples taken at the Sochi 2014 Olympics were consolidated for shipment to the laboratory.”  One of the descriptions stretches credulity.  In a tightly monitored environment, under supervision of international authorities, would it really be possible to identify Russian test samples among the hundreds being processed, separate them out, then delay their shipment till the end of the day? All of these actions would be necessary if the plan indeed was to make a manipulation in the middle of the night.

* The western media and McLaren report put the blame on all Russian athletes instead of the guilty ones (which could be very few). For example, the “Sixty Minutes” story claims that “numerous Russian athletes were doped at Sochi, including 4 gold medalists that were using steroids.” If we accept that this accusation is true, the next question should be: Why are you not identifying who these 4 athletes are? It would make sense to reveal the culprits’ identities  for two reasons: first, to identify and punish the guilty parties, and second,  not to punish those Russian athletes who were clean. With pairs and team events, there were 25 Russian gold medal winners at Sochi. Why are all of the athletes being smeared because of the wrongdoing of a few? 

* The report claims to have evidence but does not reveal it. For example, on page 14 the report states “Dr. Rodchenkov provided credible evidence that the A and B bottles would pass through the ‘mouse hole’ … into an adjacent room, outside the security perimeter.”  We are left to wonder where is this “credible evidence.”

* The investigation was neither thorough nor comprehensive.  The McLaren investigation had a mandate to carry out a “thorough and comprehensive investigation” which would corroborate or refute the public allegations of Dr. Rodchenkov.  Prof. Mclaren summarizes the situation as follows: “The compressed time frame in which to compile this Report has left much of the possible evidence unreviewed. This report has skimmed the surface of the data… However, we are confident that what we have found meets the highest evidentiary standard and can be stated with confidence.” McLaren thus acknowledges that the investigation was hasty and he did not even review all the evidence, but at the same time he demands absolute trust in his conclusions. By relying primarily on the testimony and evidence provided by Rodchenkov, and excluding testimony and data from Russian Ministry of Sports officials, Mr. McLaren invalidates himself from providing a balanced story. So, his investigation cannot be called neither thorough nor comprehensive.

* McLaren’s description of the “disappearing positive methodology” (his own term), presumably used by the Russians, does not describe a realistic way to hide positive results of anti-doping tests. Here is how this methodology is supposed to work, in McLaren’s view. The culprits would have to:

– conduct an ‘initial analytical screen’ of the athlete;

– if it is a positive result, match the screen with the athlete;

– communicate the information to the Russian Deputy Minister of Sports;

– the Deputy Minister responds with coded message indicating either “save” or “quarantine”;

– if the response is “save”, the test result should be manipulated to become negative;

– if the response is “quarantine” the test can proceed normally.

This description raises questions. Can an officially mandated test be delayed to conduct an ‘initial analytical screen’?  Can a scientifically determined positive result be manipulated and later put on record as a negative result? The report does not explain the time limits during which the presumable illegal operations were conducted. IN this situation a very substantial doubt – could the culprits operate fast enough not to arouse suspicions? – that doubt is left unanswered. 

*The McLaren report makes strong assertions propped up by weak or incomplete evidence. For example, the report says: “It can be made to appear that the laboratory was acting alone. However, given the examination and the insights obtained from evidence available to the IP investigation, it is correct to place the Moscow Laboratory within the ambit of state control.” (P30)  This assertion goes to the core of the case. Unfortunately, McLarren seems to think it is adequate to make this assertion without providing the evidence that is the basis of his “insights”.  The primary evidence of state control of the process seems to be the alleged presence of  “save” and “quarantine” directives as described in the “disappearing positive methodology.” How do the Russian authorities explain or contradict the description of this “save-quarantine” business given in the McLaren report? This is why an objective investigation needs to hear the Russian authorities’ explanation before coming to conclusion.

* The McLaren report casts suspicion on all Russian athletes instead of identifying specific cheaters. The mandate of the investigation was to “Identify any athlete that might have benefited from those alleged manipulations to conceal positive doping tests.” (P3) Instead of doing that, the McLaren report fails to identify any specific athletes who benefited and instead casts suspicion on all Russian athletes. The report does this in many places. The McLaren report says “The IP investigative team has developed evidence identifying dozens of Russian athletes who appear to have been involved in doping. The compressed time-line of the IP investigation did not permit compilation of data to establish an anti-doping rule violation.”  By failing to identify the athletes suspected of benefiting, they cast a cloud of suspicion over all Russian athletes. If we assume that McLaren’s claim is correct, that means “dozens” of cheaters compared to hundreds of clean athletes. Not very fair or sporting. 

Questions for WADA and the IOC 

  1. For WADA: It is claimed that tamper evident urine sample bottles were opened and ‘dirty’ urine exchanged with ‘clean’ urine. Mr. McLaren says that he was witness to a demonstration of this.  Meanwhile the bottle manufacturer has effectively challenged this claim and stands by its product which has been in use for 20 years. What has been done to verify that the bottles can be opened as witnessed by Mclaren?  What has been done to improve the bottles so that this is not possible? 
  2. For WADA: It is claimed that select urine samples were matched to an individual athlete, separated from other samples, then delayed in shipment to the laboratory, then smuggled out of the holding area so that ‘dirty’ urine could be replaced with ‘clean’. Assuming that McLaren report description is true, what has been done to prevent this from happening in future?
  3. For WADA: Fundamental principle #2 of the Olympic Charter is to promote a “peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity”.  Does it not damage this important goal to single out one nation’s athletes and impose collective punishment on all?
  4. For the IOC: Fundamental principle #6 of the Olympic Charter speaks against “discrimination of any kind”.  Are you not discriminating against clean Russian athletes by imposing special conditions and requirements based on nationality?  Isn’t the IAAF violating this principle by banning all Russian track and field athletes from competing at the Olympics including a world record holder who has been tested hundreds of times internationally and never tested positive? 

Conclusion

Following WADA’s Independent Commission report in late 2015,  Russian athletes have been tested through international certified laboratories. The frequency of testing has increased in an effort to demonstrate compliance with anti-doping rules and regulations. If there was still concern that Russian athletes were somehow cheating, the testing regime at the Rio Olympics could have been escalated even more. Instead, WADA and the Mclaren Report have recommended banning all Russian athletes from the Olympics, presumably to embarrass and punish Russian authorities. 

Instead of fighting doping in athletics, this looks like a politically motivated action. We are all the losers as it will increase international tension while decreasing the inclusiveness and quality of the Rio Olympic Games.  We all lose, except those who want to demonize Russia.

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Major Syrian Army Assault On Southeast Idlib As Sochi Deal Unravels

Though the Syrian war has grown cold in terms of international spotlight and media interest since September, it is likely again going to ramp up dramatically over the next few months. 

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Via Zerohedge


The Syrian Army unleashed a major assault across the southeastern part of Idlib province on Saturday, a military source told Middle East news site Al-Masdar in a breaking report. According to the source, government forces pounded jihadist defenses across the southeast Idlib axis with a plethora of artillery shells and surface-to-surface missiles.

This latest exchange between the Syrian military and jihadist rebels comes as the Sochi Agreement falls apart in northwestern Syria, and in response to a Friday attack by jihadists which killed 22 Syrian soldiers near a planned buffer zone around the country’s last major anti-Assad and al-Qaeda held region. The jihadist strikes resulted in the highest number of casualties for the army since the Sochi Agreement was established on September 17th.

Though the Syrian war has grown cold in terms of international spotlight and media interest since September, it is likely again going to ramp up dramatically over the next few months.

The Al-Masdar source said the primary targets for the Syrian Army were the trenches and military posts for Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham in the towns of Al-Taman’ah, Khuwayn, Babulin, Haish, Jarjanaz, Um Jalal, and Mashirfah Shmaliyah. In retaliation for the Syrian Army assault, the jihadist rebels began shelling the government towns of Ma’an, Um Hariteen, and ‘Atshan.

Damascus has been critical of the Sochi deal from the start as it’s criticized Turkey’s role in the Russian-brokered ceasefire plan, especially as a proposed ‘de-militarized’ zone has failed due to jihadist insurgents still holding around 70% of the planned buffer area which they were supposed to withdraw from by mid-October. Sporadic clashes have rocked the “buffer zone” since.

Russia itself recently acknowledged the on the ground failure of the Sochi agreement even as parties officially cling to it. During a Thursday press briefing by Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova admitted the following:

We have to state that the real disengagement in Idlib has not been achieved despite Turkey’s continuing efforts to live up to its commitments under the Russian-Turkish Memorandum of September 17.

This followed Russia also recently condemning  “sporadic clashes” and “provocations” by the jihadist group HTS (the main al-Qaeda presence) in Idlib.

Likely due to Moscow seeing the writing on the wall that all-out fighting and a full assault by government forces on Idlib will soon resume, Russian naval forces continued a show of force in the Mediterranean this week.

Russian military and naval officials announced Friday that its warships held extensive anti-submarine warfare drills in the Mediterranean. Specifically the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s frigates Admiral Makarov and Admiral Essen conducted the exercise in tandem with deck-based helicopters near Syrian coastal waters.

Notably, according to TASS, the warships central to the drill are “armed with eight launchers of Kalibr-NK cruise missiles that are capable of striking surface, coastal and underwater targets at a distance of up to 2,600 km.”

Since September when what was gearing up to be a major Syrian-Russian assault on Idlib was called off through the Russian-Turkish ceasefire agreement, possibly in avoidance of the stated threat that American forces would intervene in defense of the al-Qaeda insurgent held province (also claiming to have intelligence of an impending government “chemical attack”), the war has largely taken a back-burner in the media and public consciousness.

But as sporadic fighting between jihadists and Syrian government forces is reignited and fast turning into major offensive operations by government forces, the war could once again be thrust back into the media spotlight as ground zero for a great power confrontation between Moscow and Washington.

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Trump Quietly Orders Elimination of Assange

The destruction of Assange has clearly been arranged for, at the highest levels of the U.S. Government, just as the destruction of Jamal Khashoggi was by Saudi Arabia’s Government.

Eric Zuesse

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On June 28th, the Washington Examiner headlined “Pence pressed Ecuadorian president on country’s protection of Julian Assange” and reported that “Vice President Mike Pence discussed the asylum status of Julian Assange during a meeting with Ecuador’s leader on Thursday, following pressure from Senate Democrats who have voiced concerns over the country’s protection of the WikiLeaks founder.” Pence had been given this assignment by U.S. President Donald Trump. The following day, the Examiner bannered “Mike Pence raises Julian Assange case with Ecuadorean president, White House confirms” and reported that the White House had told the newspaper, “They agreed to remain in close coordination on potential next steps going forward.”

On August 24th, a court-filing by Kellen S. Dwyer, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Alexandria Division of the Eastern District of Virginia, stated: “Due to the sophistication of the defendant and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure [than sealing the case, hiding it from the public] is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged. … This motion and the proposed order would need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested in connection with the charges in the criminal complaint and can therefore no longer evade or avoid arrest and extradition in this matter.” That filing was discovered by Seamus Hughes, a terrorism expert at the Program on Extremism at George Washington University. On November 15th, he posted an excerpt of it on Twitter, just hours after the Wall Street Journal had reported on the same day that the Justice Department was preparing to prosecute Assange. However, now that we know “the fact that Assange has been charged” and that the U.S. Government is simply waiting “until Assange is arrested in connection with the charges in the criminal complaint and can therefore no longer evade or avoid arrest and extradition in this matter,” it is clear and public that the arrangements which were secretly made between Trump’s agent Pence and the current President of Ecuador are expected to deliver Assange into U.S. custody for criminal prosecution, if Assange doesn’t die at the Ecuadorean Embassy first.

On November 3rd (which, of course, preceded the disclosures on November 15th), Julian Assange’s mother, Christine Ann Hawkins, described in detail what has happened to her son since the time of Pence’s meeting with Ecuador’s President. She said:

He is, right now, alone, sick, in pain, silenced in solitary confinement, cut off from all contact, and being tortured in the heart of London. … He has been detained nearly eight years, without trial, without charge. For the past six years, the UK Government has refused his requests to exit for basic health needs, … [even for] vitamin D. … As a result, his health has seriously deteriorated. … A slow and cruel assassination is taking place before our very eyes. … They will stop at nothing. … When U.S. Vice President Mike Pence recently visited Ecuador, a deal was done to hand Julian over to the U.S. He said that because the political cost of expelling Julian from the Embassy was too high, the plan was to break him down mentally…   to such a point that he will break and be forced to leave. … The extradition warrant is held in secret, four prosecutors but no defense, and no judge, … without a prima-facie case. [Under the U.S. system, the result nonetheless can be] indefinite detention without trial. Julian could be held in Guantanamo Bay and tortured, sentenced to 45 years in a maximum security prison, or face the death penalty,” for “espionage,” in such secret proceedings.

Her phrase, “because the political cost of expelling Julian from the Embassy was too high” refers to the worry that this new President of Ecuador has, of his cooperating with the U.S. regime’s demands and thereby basically ceding sovereignty to those foreigners (the rulers of the U.S.), regarding the Ecuadorian citizen, Assange.

This conservative new President of Ecuador, who has replaced the progressive President who had granted Assange protection, is obviously doing all that he can to comply with U.S. President Trump and the U.S. Congress’s demand for Assange either to die soon inside the Embassy or else be transferred to the U.S. and basically just disappear, at Guantanamo or elsewhere. Ecuador’s President wants to do this in such a way that Ecuador’s voters won’t blame him for it, and that he’ll thus be able to be re-elected. This is the type of deal he apparently has reached with Trump’s agent, Pence. It’s all secret, but the evidence on this much of what was secretly agreed-to seems clear. There are likely other details of the agreement that cannot, as yet, be conclusively inferred from the subsequent events, but this much can.

Basically, Trump has arranged for Assange to be eliminated either by illness that’s imposed by his Ecuadorean agent, or else by Assange’s own suicide resulting from that “torture,” or else by America’s own criminal-justice system. If this elimination happens inside the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, then that would be optimal for America’s President and Congress; but, if it instead happens on U.S. soil, then that would be optimal for Ecuador’s President. Apparently, America’s President thinks that his subjects, the American people, will become sufficiently hostile toward Assange so that even if Assange disappears or is executed inside the United States, this President will be able to retain his supporters. Trump, of course, needs his supporters, but this is a gamble that he has now clearly taken. This much is clear, even though the rest of the secret agreement that was reached between Pence and Ecuador’s President is not.

Scooter Libby, who had arranged for the smearing of Valerie Plame who had tried to prevent the illegal and deceit-based 2003 invasion of Iraq, was sentenced to 30 months but never spent even a day in prison, and U.S. President Trump finally went so far as to grant him a complete pardon, on 13 April 2018. (The carefully researched docudrama “Fair Game” covered well the Plame-incident.) Libby had overseen the career-destruction of a courageous CIA agent, Plame, who had done the right thing and gotten fired for it; and Trump pardoned Libby, thus retroactively endorsing the lie-based invasion of Iraq in 2003. By contrast, Trump is determined to get Julian Assange killed or otherwise eliminated, and even Democrats in Congress are pushing for him to get that done. The new President of Ecuador is doing their bidding. Without pressure from the U.S. Government, Assange would already be a free man. Thus, either Assange will die (be murdered) soon inside the Embassy, or else he will disappear and be smeared in the press under U.S. control. And, of course, this is being done in such a way that no one will be prosecuted for the murder or false-imprisonment. Trump had promised to “clean the swamp,” but as soon as he was elected, he abandoned that pretense; and, as President, he has been bipartisan on that matter, to hide the crimes of the bipartisan U.S. Government, and he is remarkably similar in policy to his immediate predecessors, whom he had severely criticized while he was running for the Presidency.

In any event, the destruction of Assange has clearly been arranged for, at the highest levels of the U.S. Government, just as the destruction of Jamal Khashoggi was by Saudi Arabia’s Government; and, just like in Khashoggi’s case, the nation’s ruler controls the prosecutors and can therefore do whatever he chooses to do that the rest of the nation’s aristocracy consider to be acceptable.

The assault against truth isn’t only against Assange, but it is instead also closing down many of the best, most courageous, independent news sites, such as washingtonsblog. However, in Assange’s case, the penalty for having a firm commitment to truth has been especially excruciating and will almost certainly end in his premature death. This is simply the reality. Because of the system under which we live, a 100% commitment to truth is now a clear pathway to oblivion. Assange is experiencing this reality to the fullest. That’s what’s happening here.

—————

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of  They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of  CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.

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Libya’s Peace Process Dies in Palermo

The best the Palermo negotiators could come up with at the end was a bland statement declaring their hope that sometime in the future all the Libyan forces will meet to sort out their differences.

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Authored by Richard Galustian for the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity:


“Resounding flop” was the verdict of Italy’s former prime minister Matteo Renzi on this week’s Libya peace conference held in Palermo. He’s not wrong. The conference hosted by Italy’s new government achieved the remarkable feat of making Libya’s tensions worse, not better. Acrimony broke out between the parties, and Turkey’s delegation walked out, its vice president Fuat Oktay accusing unnamed States of trying to “hijack the process.”

Some sources in Palermo suggested, yet to be verified, that the US thought the Conference was not too bad: a joke if true.

Moreover the mystery we might ask is what “process” is there to hijack? Because the truth is, the peace plan the conference was supporting is already dead.

That plan was the brainchild of the United Nations, launched more than a year ago with the aim of ending Libya’s split between warring Eastern and Western governments with elections in December.

Even before the first delegates set foot in the pleasant Sicilian city of Palermo this week, the UN admitted the election date of December 10 they had decided to scrap.

The eastern government, led by the parliament in Tobruk, had made moves in the summer to organize a referendum on a new constitution which would govern the elections. But no referendum was held, and most Libyans agree it would be pointless because Tripoli, home to a third of the country’s population, is under the iron grip of multiple warring militias who have the firepower to defy any new elected government. Hours after the delegates left Palermo, those militias began a new bout of fighting in the Tripoli suburbs.

The best the Palermo negotiators could come up with at the end of the talks was a bland statement declaring their hope that sometime in the future all the Libyan forces will meet in a grand conference to sort out their differences – and this after four years of civil war. To say that chances of this are slim is an understatement.

Dominating the Palermo talks, and indeed Libya’s political landscape, was and is Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar, the commander of the Libyan National Army, the country’s most powerful formation. In four years, the LNA has secured Libya’s key oil fields and Benghazi, its second city, ridding most of the east Libya of Islamist militias.

Haftar met reluctantly negotiators in Palermo, but insisted he was not part of the talks process. The Italian government press office said Haftar was not having dinner with the other participants nor joining them for talks. Haftar specifically opposed the presence of the Muslim Brotherhood champion, Qatar, at the event along with Turkey.

Haftar clearly only attended because he had a few days before visiting Moscow – which sent to Sicily Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev – and because also of Egyptian President Sisi’s presence along with his allies.

Possibly Haftar was simply fed up. Twice in the past two years he has attended previous peace talks, hosted each time in Paris, giving the nod to declarations that Libya’s militias would dissolve. Yet the militias remain as strong as ever in Tripoli.

Haftar is detested by the militias and the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) but supported by a large segment of the population – 68 percent, according to an opinion poll by America’s USAID. His popularity is based on a single policy – his demand that security be in the hands of regular police and military, not the militias.

Not everyone is happy, certainly not Turkey, which is backing Islamist, MB and Misratan forces in western Libya who detest Haftar. Yet Turkey’s greatest statesman, the great Kamal Ataturk, was a champion of secularism: After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire following World War One Turkey faced the prospect of utter disintegration, and it was Attaturk who rose to the challenge, defending the country’s borders, while ordering that the mullahs, while responsible for spiritual welfare, have no political power.

Political Islam is not popular in Libya either. Libya is a Muslim country, its people know their faith, and most want government to be decided through the ballot box.

The problem for Libya is what happens next with the peace process broken. Haftar has in the past threatened to move on Tripoli and rid the militias by force if they refuse to dissolve, and it may come to that – a fierce escalation of the civil war.

The second possibility is that Libya will split. The east is, thanks to the LNA, militarily secure. It also controls two thirds of the country’s oil and operates as a separate entity, down to it banknotes, which are printed in Russia while the Tripoli government’s are printed in Britain. A formal split would be an economic boon for the lightly populated east, but a disaster for Tripolitania, its population losing most of the oil, its only source of export income.

Yet with the failure of peace talks, and no sign of Tripoli militias dissolving, military escalation or breakup seem more likely than ever.

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