April 08, 2006

Bombing at the Baratha Mosque

At least another 71 Shi'a worshippers were blown to death yesterday as coalition and Iraqi forces continue to fail to provide basic security in the capital city of the country that was meant to serve as model to the region of a new Arab democracy created by U.S. intervention. Surfing through the blogosphere yesterday evening, I feel it necessary to debunk a few myths I'm seeing propagated in the usual bogus quarters.

1) No, the Iranians didn't do this one either. People forget it is not in the Iranian national interest to stoke a full-blown civil war in Iraq, as this would mean different Shi'a factions would likely get dragged into internecine fighting. Yes, the Iranian objective is to ensure continuing instability, so that Americans remain bogged down and can't pursue another adventure in the neighborhood, but this does not mean the Iranians seek total chaos either. This is why Zalmay Khalilzad and others believe an Iranian negotiation track on Iraq could at least provide some benefit, if very limited, as there are some common objectives that can be espied here and there. For instance, to stress, it is neither in the Iranian nor U.S. interest to see full-blown civil war in Iraq. The Iranians do want to see the Americans continue to be slowly bled, but they do not want to see a massive conflagration that might scuttle a more methodically effective Shi'a ascendancy (one that would be largely sympathethic to Iran).

After all, the Sunni insurgency does remain somewhat resilient (again, despite the hollow and vacuous declarations of victory), and whatever headway the U.S. has made peeling some moderate Sunni tribes away from hard-core insurgents will disappear if Shi'a death squads start operating in Sunni areas more frequently. Then all Sunni hearts and minds will swing firmly back to primal tribal instinct, and the Sunni insurgents will prove a more formidable foe as they regain more unanimous support from their ethnic kin in the population at large. Look for elements in Syria and Saudi Arabia too, if Shi'a gangs are committing major atrocities, to let more jihadists over the border later (currently the numbers are more, shall we say, carefully calibrated). So, no, Iran doesn't want such a full-blown fight on its hands, I'd wager. Put simply, they don't want to see intra-Shi'a squabbling get out of control, which presents too many opportunities to Sunnis and even Kurds to take advantage of such discord, and could lead to unpredictable results unhelpful to Teheran's ultimate interests.

2) To stress for clarity' sake, the Baratha mosque was attacked by Sunni radicals, doubtless some combination of al-Qaeda elements with, perhaps, some collaboration and/or facilitation role by neo-Baathists and old-school Saddamists. Not a Shi'a faction, not Iran, even if such speculation allows various dim commenters to get all wet about those nasty Iranians that are gonna get the next whacking from Uncle Sam.

3) It is not just Baghdad that is insecure at this juncture, and the insurgents are not just putting on a "show" (what a "show" for the families of those brutally slaughtered, eh?), as some have written, for easy consumption and hyperbolic treatment by those cowardly MSM hacks that are fearful of emerging from their wetbars stock full of mini-bottles of Johnnie Walker Black in their cozy Green Zone hotel rooms (of so many lame blogospheric memes I've seen of late, this has got to be one of the candidates for dumbest of 'em all). But, for argument's sake, let's assume the rest of Iraq, all but Baghdad, is doing swell. When people talk of the Lebanese Civil War, that wracked that country from 1975-1991, what are they really talking about? They are talking about the hell and anguish that Beirut suffered for a decade plus. Make no mistake, if Baghdad is not stabilized, there is no effing Iraq. The country will disintegrate and splinter into sectarian enclaves. So we need to effectively control the battle-space in said city. We don't. Nor does the Iraqi Army. And certainly the Iraqi police doesn't. We're largely failing there, put simply--especially given the difficulties in putting together a national, cohesive government--which remains elusive despite Rice and Straw's intervention (which some say back-fired as appearing high-handed, I say more of it!) and Zalmay Khalilzad's yeoman's efforts.

4) Regardless, as a new report points out, the situation in Anbar, despite some improvements in the past year, remains "critical". Lest we forget amidst the dreary, empty spin that 14 of 18 provinces are doing great, Anbar alone is the size of Belgium, and is the largest province in Iraq. It also borders the rat-lines of Syria, as well as Jordan and Saudi Arabia. It's a very strategic province, in a word. Just today, an attack in Ramadi serious enough to warrant U.S. use of F-18 jets occurred. Alas, the insurgency is not "fundamentally finished" as ignorant hacks have written. But there's more. Basra is becoming increasingly influenced by Iranian friendly militias and criminal elements. And the situation in each of Salahuddin and Diyala remains very problematic, and could erupt any day if large scale sectarian killings intensify (among other provinces too). As for the Kurdish areas, it is true they remain stable, and I note bloggers are E-mailing in pretty pictures from their trek-throughs to wide acclaim. But Kurdish federalism remains a real sleeper issue that could imperil the Iraq project later, and the status of cities like Kirkuk, not to mention reverse Arabization underway, will cause continuing low-grade tensions. My point? Don't believe the buffoonishly naive narrative being peddled by some that all the problems of Iraq are now centered on Baghdad, so that all is swell elsewhere. And, even if you feel compelled to swallow this dumbed-down swill, don't minimize the absolutely critical import of Baghdad generally regardless.

5) Finally, for today on Iraq at least, another snippet from Zinni's MTP appearance last Sunday, to close:

MR. RUSSERT: In your book, and I’ll quote from it, “The Battle For Peace,” it says, “Our current war in Iraq may be turning into a repetition of Vietnam. The military out there goes from operation to operation, our leaders in Washington assure us we are powering ahead from success to success; yet our young nineteen or twenty-year-old soldiers are now asking hard questions: ‘I can win any battle; but am I winning this war?’

“I’ve heard these questions before in Vietnam. The answer there was ‘No.’

“My answer for Iraq is, ‘I don’t know.’ Nobody can tell our soldiers if they’re winning or not. But the parallels are disturbing.” Explain.

GEN. ZINNI: Well, you know, you can see almost every day on TV a young lieutenant colonel, colonel, a young sergeant that’s out there trying to make a difference that tells you that, in this village, in this province, “My unit is connecting to the people. We’re trying hard.” The frustration is they leave and the next unit in may not repeat it. They’re successful, but there is no national program that takes hold. All their efforts out there at the local level, the successes that they’re trying to achieve on the scene aren’t solidified into some national movement forward.

The, the remarkable similarities to Vietnam is I saw in places in Vietnam where we were making a difference in the villages, where we had programs that innovative commanders were exercising, where there were troops that were dedicated to changing the lives of the Vietnamese. Meanwhile, back in Saigon, we had the revolving generals, coup after coup, while we sat there and watched, and this wasn’t the kind of government that the people felt they could risk their lives for.

What I’m saying is don’t mistake the efforts of the troops on the ground. We just saw Colonel McMasters, Tal Afar, we know General Petraeus, General Mattis, others that have made a difference on the ground. But that’s like putting your foot in a bucket of water. You pull it out, no one’s going to know you were there unless there is a national program, a belief in that government in Baghdad, a hope for the future, a belief that staying together as united Iraq is better for these people in the long run. That has to come from a strategic plan, from a, a set of policies emerging out of Washington and Baghdad. It isn’t going to be built from the bottom up, from the Anbar provinces, and the Ramadis and the Mosuls out there.

Yes, there are heroic Captains and Sergeants and Colonels in places like Ramadi and Tal Afar and Qaim that deserve the deepest respect and encouragement, especially from those like me blogging from so far away New York City. My criticisms are not meant to take anything away from their noble efforts. But the fish rots from the head. Until we admit the scale of our problems in Iraq, until we re-intensify our efforts to control Baghdad and somehow forge a national compact, until we stop speaking about draw-downs (Kerry's plan for a May 15th withdrawal if an Iraqi government is not in place is the very height of folly), until the President better grasps the perils we are presented with at the present hour in Iraq, we will continue to bumble along. And the momentum is with chaos and disintegration, not order let alone some unitary, viable democracy. We must do better, and to start doing better, we must recognize the scale of our problem, and the myriad errors committed to date. Does anyone believe our current war leaders, putting aside those who have been cowed by the civilian leadership and otherwise muzzled and so are too often irrelevant, are strong and wise and frank and honest enough to play it straight with us?

Posted by Gregory at April 8, 2006 07:57 PM | TrackBack (0)
Comments


Gerecht has said it more bluntly.

'Pacifying Baghdad will be politically convulsive and provide horrific film footage and skyrocketing body counts. . .'

http://www.opinionjournal.com/editorial/feature.html?id=110008178

The yahoos will love it. More dead ragheads in revenge for 9-11. But 'pacifying' Baghdad by leveling it will only be plunging deeper into the quagmire.


Posted by: David Tomlin at April 8, 2006 09:43 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

But the fish rots from the head. Until we admit the scale of our problems

Ouch. That hurt.

Posted by: J Thomas at April 8, 2006 09:56 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

what is most interesting to me at the moment is that while the attack on the Golden Mosque at Samara appears to have been designed to minimize casualties, the Baratha attack appears to have been designed to maximize them.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at April 9, 2006 12:26 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Absent from Greg's entry here is any acknowledgement that Iraqis might have some responsibility for their own country.

I understand the school of thought that holds this to be much less important than what some bloggers in the United States are posting about Iraq. And it is true that the idea of Arab responsibility for Arab problems and for putting them right gets little regular encouragement from Arabs. It's always someone else's fault.

But writing about Sunni reaction to Shiite militias murdering Sunni civilians as a failure of American policy goes a little far. It is the Sunni Arab-dominated insurgency that threw the growth of Shiite militias into overdrive in the first place. It is only the restraint -- far greater restraint tham we had any right to expect three years ago -- of senior Shiite clerics and, perhaps, Muqtada Sadr's decision to thin the ranks of his followers by throwing them at American armor in 2004 that has put off Shiite retaliation for persistent Sunni Arab terrorism until this year.

Now we are seeing retaliation -- a lot of it -- along with continued terrorism against Shiites, and the fear is that this will swing those Sunnis Amb. Khalilzad has been coaxing and pleading to participate in the government back to supporting the insurgency. Forgive me for saying so, but it rather sounds as if we are trying to get Sunni Arab political leaders to choose between turning a blind eye to the insurgency and actively supporting it now that its principle victims are retaliating for its attacks on Shiite civilians. It these are the only choices on the menu than the enterprise really is hopeless.

Posted by: Zathras at April 9, 2006 12:36 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

(Kerry's plan for a May 15th withdrawal if an Iraqi government is not in place is the very height of folly)

Hooboy.

For all the 'yeoman' work that Ambassador Khalizad has given us, and for all the efforts of Secretary Rice (the brightest bulb in the Administration) and Foreign Secretary Straw - here we are. There's no magic wand that Bush and Blair can wave to change Secretary Rumsfeld into a peaceful democratic Iraq. Our people, the best and brightest our ruling parties can offer, are doing their best, and still Iraq is falling apart.

Sometimes your best is just not good enough. Just ask the Mets.

At that point, is it the 'very height of folly' to consider alternative courses of action?

Posted by: Doug H. at April 9, 2006 12:55 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg, you are still showing the poor judgement you showed when you supported the war on Iraq in the first place.

Bush was for war, Kerry was for diplomacy. You sided with Bush.

Bush is for 'staying the course' whatever that means, Kerry is proposing a redeployment out of Iraq. Again you show poor judgement in an offhand dismissal of Kerry's proposal.

No harm will befall us if we pull out of Iraq. The most damaging thing speculated about is a loss of credibility. Buth the world has already learned that Bush is not to be trusted. This loss of credibility does not necessarily extend to America. We can restore most of it by showing a willingness to do the right thing, like Kerry is suggesting. And the next president, if he, or she, is honest will certainly be credible.

Posted by: ken at April 9, 2006 01:26 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Zathras, of course it's hopeless.

About responsibility, everybody gets to be responsible for what they do. We're responsible for invading iraq, destroying a lot of infrastructure, disbanding the poilce etc that might have stopped looting, spending the iraqi government budget on reconstruction projects that didn't work, etc etc.

We are responsible for setting up an iraqi army and running its chain of command through us. That makes us responsible for the iraqi army. Etc.

Of course we can blame various iraqis for their choices. But that isn't particularly our business. It's our place to take responsibility for our choices.

Posted by: J Thomas at April 9, 2006 01:56 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"It's our place to take responsibility for our choices."

If I buy choose to buy something based upon the representation of the selling party, and that representation is false, I am not responsible for anything. I simply tell the credit card company not to pay, and that is that.

Just because the American people initially chose to support the invasion of Iraq they are not responsible for that choice as it was made based on false information knowingly fed them by the Bush administration who needed their support to go to war.

So no, 'we' are not responsible for the debacle in Iraq. Bush, Cheney, Powell, Rice and others in the administration are responsible. I do not know what the consequences for their lies should be, but I do know that the rest of us Americans are not responsible for their mess.

I suppose this is just tough for the Iraqies. It is like a rape victem. They will live with the nightmare for a long time. I wish them the best. I believe the best we can do for them would be to bring the perpetuators of this crime to justice. But until we get a law abiding responsible administration in Washington this is not going to happen.

Posted by: ken at April 9, 2006 03:51 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

> but I do know that the rest of us Americans are not responsible for their [Bush, Cheney, and the whole sordid lot] mess.

I propose that this is oversimplified, and, to my mind, a weak excuse.

It was Americans in 2000 who voted Bush and his lot in, when Bush already had a track record for cowardice, corruption, and failure. Then in 2004, when Bush had adjoined thereto a record of wilful and spiteful deceit, and a clear dislike of intelligence or discussion, and an enmity against both the US Dept of State and the US Cia, tens of millions of Americans again voted him in to power.

So surely these Americans must bear some responsibility -- just as the all the supporters of Hitler bore fair responsibility for voting him into power and supporting him.


Posted by: Greg at April 9, 2006 05:28 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg, more than half the country didn't vote for Bush in 2000, and about half the country didn't vote for Bush in 2004. I'm not sure what responsibility we-who-never-supported-Bush have, esp. considering all the effort we made to head off this misbegotten war before it started.

And I'm not precisely sure what we're supposed to do, even if we accepted responsibility out of some vast, forgiving magnanimity for the sole purpose of fixing things.

Are we supposed to ask our Congresspersons to pretty please make Bush do something useful?

Sorry. The GOP controls Congress, and will continue to control Congress at least until 2007. The GOP might be doing its craven, dishonest best to "distance" itself from Bush, but that has not translated into any actual demands for change or accountability in the WH.

Are we supposed to ask the news media to finally call a spade a bloody shovel, and fill every newscast, 24/7, with demands for Rumsfeld's resignation, Cheney's resignation, Bush's resignation?

What do you think the odds are that our voices will have any effect? Or, even if the MSM listens, what are the odds that anyone in the WH will pay attention?

With Iraq going down the sh*tter, and plans for war and possibly nuclear war against Iran on the table, and Bush hugging his AUMF-derived absolute power to his bosom, what the bloody hell do you want us to do?

Posted by: CaseyL at April 9, 2006 06:36 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

just so no one gets confused, please note the "greg" above is not the author of this blog. unfortunately, i rarely have time to post in comments, but i'd please ask commenters to use names other than "greg" here, as the rare times I do have the time, that's the name i use. cheers, greg djerejian

p.s. please note I do read all the comments threads regularly, and appreciate the often insightful feedback.

Posted by: greg (the B.D. one) at April 9, 2006 07:36 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Why is that even cold and bloody hearted, COMPETENT foreign policy realism is such a rare commodity these days. No realist would have cried about Saddam's continued tyranny provided he was not an imminent threat (in fact satisfactorily simmering in utter international powerlessness). In these sorry days I would welcome any sort of clear headedness, even this sort: we are not in this jungle of a world to hug trees, to spread the American Constitution (a too good of thing to enforce domestically anyway) and whatever - we are here to survive. I mean where are the actual conservatives these days? The only thing we seem to have are the ex-Marxist neo-conservatives whose idea of history is closer to Lenin than Burke or Oakeshott and whose delivery is more Keystone Cops than Norman Swartchkopf. Bloody hell, it is scary that utter amateurs are in charge and the Commander in Chief seems to lack any reflective brain functions. Well, I suppose for the true believers the delivery doesn't matter, the intention is all important. Stuff happens. Hey trees, a hug alert...

Posted by: llwyd at April 9, 2006 10:14 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Why is it that even cold and bloody hearted, COMPETENT foreign policy realism is such a rare commodity these days? No realist would have cried about Saddam's continued tyranny provided he was not an imminent threat (in fact satisfactorily simmering in utter international powerlessness). In these sorry days I would welcome any sort of clear headedness, even this sort: we are not in this jungle of a world to hug trees, to spread the American Constitution (a too good of thing to enforce domestically anyway) and whatever - we are here to survive. I mean where are the actual conservatives these days? The only thing we seem to have are the ex-Marxist neo-conservatives whose idea of history is closer to Lenin than Burke or Oakeshott and whose delivery is more Keystone Cops than Norman Swartchkopf. Bloody hell, it is scary that utter amateurs are in charge and the Commander in Chief seems to lack any reflective brain functions. Well, I suppose for the true believers the delivery doesn't matter, the intention is all important. Stuff happens. Hey trees, a hug alert...

Posted by: llwyd at April 9, 2006 10:15 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

what is most interesting to me at the moment is that while the attack on the Golden Mosque at Samara appears to have been designed to minimize casualties, the Baratha attack appears to have been designed to maximize them.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at April 9, 2006 01:36 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Absent from Greg's entry here is any acknowledgement that Iraqis might have some responsibility for their own country.

Man, there's a much-quoted passage from the end of The Great Gatsby that fits this sentiment to a T.

The absolute bottom-line problem here is our narcissism in imagining that so-called "Jacksonian America" is somehow unique. The world is chock full of Jacksonians. Jacksonian Anbar, Jacksonian Basra, Jacksonian Kurdistan, Jacksonian Israel and Jacksonian Palestine. If Hersh and Cirincione are correct, we will soon come face to face with Jacksonian Persia.

Administration foreign policy since January 2002 has seemingly been dedicated to stirring up Jacksonian abreactions in as much of the world as possible. That part appears to be working. The Sunni insurgency is nothing but the foreseeable outcome of the decision to knock Sunni Iraq from its perch - foreseeable if you don't imagine that all the nationalist conservatives i the world live west of the Ohio and east of California.

Disclaiming responsibility for the foreseeable consequences of one's actions is rich indeed.

Posted by: Jim Henley at April 9, 2006 03:24 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

In this context, what's the difference between responsibility and blame?

Bush accepts responsiblity for the whole thing. It was his choice, he gets to choose because he's the President. But he doesn't accept any blame. He says he's doing entirely the right thing, that he's made no mistakes, and someday he'll be judged by history or by God or something.

I take responsibility for my votes -- I voted against Bush twice. And I didn't campaign hard enough against him either time. Also, I did very little to reform either the GOP or the Democratic party. If either party had been good it probably wouldn't have come to this.

And I didn't do enough to give third parties a chance. If the Democrats had a goal better than getting slightly more votes than the GOP, we'd be better off. We need more competition. Even with 4 parties it would still be like an oligopoly. But with IRV third parties would have as much chance as they deserved. I didn't work hard enough for that over the last 12 years or so.

So I helped lose the elections. I deserve at least one hundred millionth of the blame.

Posted by: J Thomas at April 9, 2006 05:13 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Before too many more people put up posts here that completely miss the point of mine upthread, perhaps I should reiterate that the Shiite reaction to the Sunni Arab-dominated insurgency is a problem for Sunni Arabs in Iraq much more than it is for Americans. We are not talking here -- well, I am not anyway --about some fairsy-sharesy apportioning of blame, but about what Iraq's Sunni Arabs need to do to address the anger of other Iraqis toward the insurgency that has been manned, funded and equipped by Sunni Arab Iraqis for the last three years now.

Three years of deliberate murder of Shiite clerics, government workers, contractors, policemen, police recruits, and civilians in general is a lot, and it may be things have already gone too far. Assuming that they have not, though, it ought to be clear as glass that declarations from Sunni Arab leaders that they do not support insurgent attacks on civilians are just not good enough -- not because I think so, or because General Casey thinks so, but because a large and well-armed majority of Iraqis do. Having declined to join the government and fight the insurgents in the past, their claims that they oppose suicide bombs in mosques are not believed now. No American policy can change this.

I've written here before of my view that Amb. Khalilzad erred seriously a few days before the Askariya bombing by speaking publicly against the growing influence of Shiite militias without acknowledging that they have so much support because of the insurgency and the tactics it has chosen to use. There isn't any question that militia influence in Iraq is undesirable, and problematic from the point of view of our interests there. But that influence is a plant that has been lavishly fertilized and watered by Iraq's Sunni Arabs; by appearing not to understand that, Khalilzad weakened his position as an arbitrator. The real problem, though, isn't what Shiite Iraqis think of Khalilzad; it's what they think of their Sunni Arab countrymen, whose leaders need to take much more responsibility than they have to date for cooperating with the government, suppressing the insurgency, and thereby reducing the threat that is prompting so many Iraqi Shiites to turn to bloody-minded clerics and their militias for protection and for revenge.

Posted by: Zathras at April 9, 2006 09:40 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I don't understand the reluctance of people to assign blame for the mess in Iraq to the people who are directly responsible for it, and to those, however marginally, enabled those responsible for mess by supporting them.

I view it like this:

Bush and his ilk are like the rapist who claims that his victim deserved what she got because of her provocations.

Bush supporters are like those who feel that the victim got what she deserved when raped, by being so provocative.

Iraq is like the raped victim: damaged by the initial rape and unable to escape the rapist who steadfastedly refuses leave and instead insists on 'staying the course', whatever that means.

Bush is a criminal. Many in his adiministration are complicit in his crime.

Those that support him are partially to blame for his crime.

We can do nothing to give a virgin back her virgininty and we can do nothing to put Iraq back together again.

That happens a lot in life.

What we can do is bring the perpetuaters of this crime to justice. If we have the moral courage to do so.

Posted by: ken at April 10, 2006 03:43 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Three years of deliberate murder of Shiite clerics, government workers, contractors, policemen, police recruits, and civilians in general is a lot, and it may be things have already gone too far.

It hasn't been 3 years yet. Remember that the insurgency mostly didn't get started for the first 6 months., and it didn't much go after civilians for a good long while.

Here's an explanation.
http://www.exile.ru/2005-May-20/war_nerd.html

How come they're going after plain civilians instead of just IAF and police and government workers? It's a mistake. They have repeatedly denied doing it, they say it's americans or israelis doing it to make them look bad.

It would be interesting if the iraqi government got up the nerve to tell us to leave. And we did it. Then the resistance couldn't get away with saying the IG is our puppet. Much of their support would dissipate, unless the civil war stuff has gone too far.

If only the IG had done that last year, before it got this bad....

Posted by: J Thomas at April 10, 2006 04:38 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Some simple statements.

To have a decent security environment in Baghdad, more troops are required.

More troops are not available.

A draft ain't happening. Nor are the Euros going to suddenly dump in a bunch of troops.

What options do we have? Remember, we go to war with the rotten head we have.

Posted by: Appalled Moderate at April 10, 2006 02:08 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The Iraqi leaders need to form a gov't -- the UIA must nominate a PM acceptable to the other blocks.

The Iraqi leaders need to learn about political compromise -- welcome to messy democracy, where "unity" meets disagreement and the name of the person getting a post means that OTHER ambitious, previous political allies do NOT get the post.

Security will remain on hold, i.e. none, until the Iraqi leaders form a gov't, and that gov't starts getting serious about security.

With forces that can speak Arabic; not English-only forces.

The problem is not in the US, the problem is in Baghdad. With Iraqis who have not yet learned to live in peace AND freedom with their fellows. (Under Saddam with unfree, enforced peace; just as Yugoslavia had "peace" under Tito.)

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at April 10, 2006 05:56 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Security will remain on hold, i.e. none, until the Iraqi leaders form a gov't, and that gov't starts getting serious about security.

I think that's likely sometime after the iraqi leaders form a government that meets outside the Green Zone. Then they'll get serious about security.

Posted by: J Thomas at April 10, 2006 10:33 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

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