Dr. Silverman responds to JohnH


First I want to apologize for the absolutely atrocious spelling, grammar, and syntax. I dashed this off as a real quick, first read response to COL (ret) Lang's previous post about the electoral purges. This is also why its all reaction and no reflection, which is, I believe, what JohnH was looking for. So I'm going to make a good faith effort to show my work, so to speak. The observations below are based on what I observed going on in Iraq in 2008, especially in regards to the provincial elections, SOI transition, and SOFA negotiation process. My observations were supplemented from reading excellent primary source reporting, as well as secondary analysis. First, let me clarify that by end of the Iraq Project I mean in the political sense. Our ability to influence the politicians in Iraq, including the ones that we have helped to install in power, as well as the out of government elites and notables seems to be pretty clearly over with. The reason for this is that careful Iraq watchers have seen that there are really two overarching factions in Iraq that have developed.

The best writing on this was done at the old Abu Aardvark by Professor Lynch and the old Abu Muwaqama by Dr. Parker (who used the handle "Dr. Irak"). Both of them referred to these two groups as the "powers that are" and the "powers that aren't". The former are the three major players in the national coalition government. They come from two groups, the Kurds and the exile Shi'a, and have previously included the Sunni exile movement largely because the US badgered them to do so. The powers that aren't are the traditional and/or tribal Sunnis and Shi'a, as well as the Sadrists and some other non-exile Iraqis. The major difference between the groups is the former, with the exception of the Kurds, are diasporan movements that don't have indigenous support bases and the latter are indigenous movements that have little power. The other big issue is that the latter, the powers that aren't, are the movements and groups that have been the most committed to the idea that there should be an Iraq; not a loose confederation or congory, not two or three separate countries, but one, unified Iraq. The powers that are clearly don't feel this way. The Kurds have made it clear that they want their own nation-state, ISCI/Badr want to be able to float the Shi'a South free (this is what the fight for Basra was largely about), and Maliki and his Dawa Party seem to have moved to a more nationalist stance, but this is clearly part of the coup proofing concept. Each of these three ruling factions also has captured huge chunks of the Iraqi Security Forces. The Iraqi Army is largely divided between Kurdish Pesh and Badr Corps members and Maliki has set up his own shock troop, Counter-terrorism unit in the past two years. The much more subtle electoral manipulations surrounding the provincial elections, as well as the very overt purges that have just been reported, demonstrate our political inability to influence the Iraqi political process. Two years ago Maliki was falling all over himself to bring the Sunni exile party back into his government to please the US, but then mid 2008, something changed. What changed was the Iraqi realization that they could run out the clock on the US on the SOFA agreement, which they did. This resulted in a Security Agreement (despite what reporters will use it is NOT a SOFA) that put sharp time limits on how long we can stay, refused to reup the UN recognized occupation authorization, and once implemented strictly curtailed US activities in Iraq. As this realization was setting in the Government of Iraq (GOI) rebuffed follow on attempts by the US to work on a reconciliation process, slow walked the Security Agreement negotiations until they'd backed up the provincial elections ones, and then rolled the US negotiators on both. This is very significant in terms of our political influence. The whole point of a COIN strategy, and both GEN Petraeus and AMB Crocker testified to this before Congress, is to create an opening for the political process to take over leading to reconciliation, institution building, etc. The opening that the COIN breaks that the US either recognized and tried to exploit (the Awakenings, the Baghdad ethnic cleansings) or made (the Surge, creation of the SOI) was squandered by the Bush Administration on forcing through an outrageous SOFA agreement, as well as provincial elections as a HUGE benchmark. When the Iraqis perceived our weakness on these negotiations, we started to loose our ability to influence things. This was then followed by the SOI handoff to the Government of Iraq. By the time all the changes came down, and from what I observed much to the chagrin and dismay of the military, the US basically was out maneuvered by the Maliki government in the manner in which the handover occurred. What this demonstrated to the GOI was that they had the upper hand and to the SOI that we weren't the allies they thought we were. What this leaves me with, especially in light of the overt purges of even people that Maliki claimed as allies, is that the US's ability to influence the process and the policies of Iraq and it the Iraqi government are severely curtailed. Moreover, our other Iraqi allies, the SOI/Awakening folks, who are actually Iraqi nationalists now have one further example of why the US can not be relied upon. Should the upcoming elections further consolidate the Kurdish, Dawa, and ISCI/Badr hold on the government, not to mention leave the issues of Kirkuk unresolved, a major storm will be on the horizon. JohnH also asked about advisors and indicated that advisors have more influence. Here to I need to clarify. By advisor I meant the military's role in Iraq, which is now predominantly security force advising. Our major influence is on the training of the Iraqi Army, National Police, Iraqi Police (these are the local cops, I have no idea who picked the names). The military's advisory role is clearly, by the nature of the changed mission just since the end of June 2009, not as powerful as it was. The influence of the diplomatic or political advisors has, to my mind, been reduced ever since the US failed to use its real leverage in 2007 and early 2008 to establish a reconciliation process to cement the COIN breaks and opportunities, as well as getting rolled on the SOFA and provincial elections negotiations. One final point: if these purges and the subsequent elections further cement the power and control of the powers that are, given that Dawa and ISCI/Badr are complete constructions of the Iranians and the Kurds were heavily subsidized over the years by Iran as a check on Saddam Hussein, then I don't see how anyone can argue that the Iraqi endeavor has empowered Iran to the point of making it appear, even if it really is not, the regional hegemon. It is this that I think shows that the US wasn't planning on Maliki as strongman, because by allowing what has happened to happen politically, by failing to consolidate the COIN breaks, the US has empowered Iran and that is certainly not part of any US end state I've ever heard of.    Dr. Adam Silverman

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20 Responses to Dr. Silverman responds to JohnH

  1. Yes, the US has taught the Iraqi leadership, factions, and people many lessons and suggest that the next decade will show that they learned those lessons well. Just not the lessons the US in its ignorance, hubris, and ego thought it was teaching. Beware those who might suffer from Iraqi revanchism. The list is long. And Iraq will not be thrilled if WMD possessed by Shia Iran whether or not the Shia control Iraq.

  2. JohnH says:

    I sincerely appreciate Silverman’s response. I never meant to simply solicit a reaction.
    As an observer in the states, I can only be certain of a few things:
    1) the US has invested mightily in Iraq
    2) the situation in Iraq is extremely unclear. Good information is hard to find.
    3) US intentions have been impossible to discern from the moment Bush decided to invade. Seven years in, the situation is no better.
    4) the long promised withdrawal is still sometime in the future.
    5) the nature of US involvement after 2011 is yet to be determined. We know, however, that huge military bases will endure and some unspecified number of advisers will likely remain. Their roles are unknown.
    Bottom line, Iraq is very important to the US and US intentions are unclear.
    Given all the opacity, I think it’s extremely reasonable to voice a high degree of skepticism about reports that US influence is waning, particularly when the government has consistently been adept at masking its involvement, calling its assets by other names, such as advisers or aid workers.
    Nonetheless Silverman’s report indicates that Iraqis are reasserting their independence. This is consistent with previous data points, including Iraqis ability to resist US proposals for a new oil law, tough, effective negotiating on the SOF, and holding elections on their schedule, not the US schedule.
    If this all comes to pass as Silverman suggests, I have to agree “that is certainly not part of any US end state I’ve ever heard of.”

  3. JohnH says:

    “That is certainly not part of any US end state I’ve ever heard of.” Me neither! And that all by itself would lead one to be skeptical that it could actually be happening.

  4. anna missed says:

    I don’t understand the part of your final point that acknowledges that if the Dawa and ISCI were known Iranian constructions (as a check on Saddam) how we could expect the endgame outcome to be anything other than what it appears to be – especially since the general U.S. policy directives always eschewed the nationalists ideals of those “powers that aren’t” such as the Sadrists, deBaathification etc.
    Or in other words is there some level of denial going on here that refuses to see that by enabling the “Iranian tools” to germinate and inhabit the emerging new Iraqi government that it wouldn’t reflect well on the interests of its progenitor? Or, was it a (seemingly necessary) deal with the devil because these groups were the easiest avaliable pro occupation group able to assume the task of getting a government up and running – with the understanding that this affiliation with the U.S.) would be enduring.

  5. Patrick Lang says:

    “That is certainly not part of any US end state I’ve ever heard of.” Me neither! And that all by itself would lead one to be skeptical that it could actually be happening.”
    This implies a belief that the US can actually control history and/or is immune to emergence of unintended consequences. pl

  6. curious says:

    uhm, can somebody explain what this is? Is this a joke?
    BEIRUT, Jan. 17 (Xinhua) — An Israeli army unit on Sunday crossed the borders with Lebanon in the direction of the occupied part of al-Ghajar village, Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency (NNA) reported.
    “An intense Israeli build-up of forces during the past 24 hours has been observed along the eastern sector of the Blue Line, with mobile and fixed patrols,” said NNA.
    It added that “Israeli tank emplacements were spotted amid intense overflights by helicopter gunships and warplanes.”
    “Earlier, an Israeli mechanized infantry unit comprised of two Hummers crossed the UN-designated Blue Line for 300 meters in the direction of the occupied part of al-Ghajar village,” said NNA.

  7. Adam L Silverman says:

    Anna Missed: I think the key here is that the CPA really didn’t have a good grasp of who it was empowering when it reconstituted the Iraqi government. The plan, based on reading the rules they laid down and the decisions made, seems to be to empower economic activity ASAP and use Iraq as a place to test every ideological concept that couldn’t be tested in the US. I am not kidding – Grover Norquist was involved with writing the Iraqi tax code. So its a flat tax for everyone, including businesses, and under the terms of the CPA’s sovereignty handover it can’t ever be changed. And if I recall there’s no capital gains or inheritance taxes either.
    The only other explanation is that the Bush Administration, or factions within it, really sought to strengthen and empower the Iranian clerical regime. To me the argument that the CPA folks, and the Bush Administration folks, just didn’t have a good handle on who they were dealing with or what the repercussions would be is a lot more plausible. This has been well documented in a number of works (Ricks, Suskind, even the second or third Woodward book). I mean you have to remember how the CPA worked they had a group of Heritage Foundation interns try to set up an Iraqi stock exchange!!! This Vanity Fair piece clearly shows how skewed the Bush Administrations views of Iraqis were and how to deal with them:

  8. Adam L Silverman says:

    Curious: the UN designated Blue Line, established in 2006 after Israel’s incursion into Lebanon, runs right through al Ghajar. It basically divides into North and South. The UN has been trying to get Israel all the way out of the village, so it can be reunited, for over three years. My guess is, and I’ve seen no one cover this story at all other than the Chinese Press (which is itself curious), that the Israelis were chasing someone and didn’t really care if they crossed the Blue Line if they thought they could get him.

  9. anna missed says:

    Dr. Silverman
    Ironically, in the previous Iraq thread I mentioned that in David Wurmser’s 1999 AEI published book on Iraq he outlines a scenario of how if Saddam were overthrown it would open the door to returning Shiite religious authority away from Qom and back to Najaf. This would supposedly politically destabilize Iran by promoting a Sistani style “quietest” alternative to the Iranian “activist” clergy directed government.
    Such a scenario, implicit in other AEI “social engineering” prospects/pipedreams would also not be incompatible (in theory) with a neo-liberal economic agenda undertaken by the the CPA – seeing how a quietist clergy establishment would stay removed from direct political intervention. Seeing how Wurmser was Cheney’s ME adviser at the time and still connected to AEI, it’s not too hard to imagine an intentional policy along these lines being hatched in the oval office. Perhaps, it was, for them, a way to redress the Shiite sellout following the 91 war that in their dreams would dovetail into their current designs.
    My only quibble of course, is that somebody(s) designed the course of action taken in Iraq, in spite of fact that the course of action has never been properly revealed. Otherwise I agree with pretty much all you have said.

  10. JohnH says:

    PL said–“This implies a belief that the US can actually control history.” Wasn’t that exactly what Bush, Cheney and the neocons believed? Isn’t it mind boggling that they would surrender their cherished dream and let Iraqis run Iraq? In any case, it’s mind boggling to me, which is why Silverman’s piece was so hard for me to believe.
    Of course, it had to be done surreptitiously. No one is ready to publicly admit to accepting reality–a silence that also makes it hard to believe.

  11. Patrick Lang says:

    Yes. It is what they and the damned neocons believed. They were completely wrong and so are you. Anyone with a wide experience of such places as Iraq and humanity generally should have seen that a massively divided social grouping like Iraq that was also committed to a vibrant ideology like Islam would be very difficult to control. Someone here referred earlier to my inclination to use guile to influence outcomes in such places. That person was correct. Unfortunately, there was little knowledge of Iraq present among the planners of the invasion and even less guile. pl

  12. GregB says:

    The consequences of the US invasion of Iraq are almost comically opposite of what was supposed to be the outcome.
    The strong arming of Iraq was supposed to intimidate the regional despots and realign the region in Amerca and her allies favor.
    Yet what have been the consequences or blow-back?
    From my observations the following.
    *Iraq, once seen as a regional bulwark against Iran is now a full fledged ally of Iran.
    *Syria has moved up in regional status. Having absorbed military assaults from both Israel and the US.
    *Long standing US allies Saudi Arabia and Egypt have seen their influence reduced.
    *The solid relationship between Israel and Turkey has been seriously damaged. As has the relationship between the US and Turkey.
    *Lebanon has coalesced into a somewhat unified country with Hezbollah being one of the strongest factions in the Lebanese government.
    All of these developments plus the devastating blows to the myths of Israeli and American power.
    Israel was unable to accomplish any of their goals against Hezbollah in the 2006 war and was reduced to attacking tiny Gaza to show their great strength.
    The US with all of her might made quite a hash of Iraq and Afghanistan.
    China and Russia have little to worry about short of nuclear war.
    Heckuva job.

  13. Adam L Silverman says:

    Anna Missed and, I think, JohnH:
    I’m tracking on the Wurmser book, however, it itself shows a clear misreading of the actual functioning of Twelver Shi’a Islam. While it is true that Najaf has always been the senior of the two sites, not to mention that the Marja’a al Taqlid at Najaf technically outranks the one at Qom, because of either the cooption or marginalization of the Iraqi Shi’a by Saddam Hussein the reality is that Qom has generally the much greater reach. This was especially true once Ayatullah Ujma Khomeini usurped the most senior rank at Qom. Najaf briefly became ascendent again when Khomeini was exiled there before Saddam Hussein realized the problem he had on his hands and sent Khomeini on to Paris. The key to understanding the ascendence of these to centers of religion and religious authority has to be in how they are used. Ayatullah Ujma al Sistani clearly is a smart man (based on everything I’ve ever read), clearly outranks all other Twelver Shi’a clerics in terms of taqlid (authority), but is so low key and behind the scenes in the use of his power that he is functionally surpassed by much lower ranking scholars in Iran – such as Ayatullah Khameini.
    As to understanding this dynamic, let alone being able to reconcile it to plans or planning or conceptualization of the problem set, from what I can tell the advising was going from Chalabi and his people to his contacts within the SecDef’s and VP’s offices. So if the former assured the latter that Maliki was western educated, a physician, and modern, none of these folks were going to blink and reply: “but he’s running an exile Iraqi, Shia religious party supported by the Iranian clerical theocracy!”
    A good anecdotal example of this is a discussion, more like a gripe session, with a PRT deputy team leader. We were kvetching about the inability to really do anything meaningful with power and water issues in Iraq as the Iraqi Transition Assistance Office (ITAO) had issued instructions that the decision was made that the Iraqis would do this, they were developing a ten year plan, and it would be done by then (this was part, if I recall correctly of a CPA hand down to the Iraqis, which required that the infrastructure all be privatized – another ideological experiment because we know how well that stuff worked here in the US). I remarked that of course, in ten years, living under occupation for three to five of them with the occupying power going hands off on infrastructure you’re likely to get a whole bunch of anti-government types willing to kill people. The PRT deputy team lead replied something to the effect of “each of those guys (ITAO) has a pet Iraqi that’s one of Chalabi’s guys in his office telling them what should and shouldn’t be done for the Iraqis”.
    Basically Chalabi enamored and enraptured and manipulated and he’s still doing it.
    So while its clear that Maliki and Ayatullah Uzma Hakim were purposefully empowered by the US in Iraq, and while some may have naively thought this would counterweight Iran’s influence in the region, I think it is also clear that the people who developed these courses of action didn’t have a really good understanding of who they were empowering. That shouldn’t be surprising as these were the folks that brought us the Team B estimates of Soviet power, which overestimated the CIA estimates, which we now know were themselves overestimates. This is what happens when you start your analysis with a normative and subjective conclusion as your hypothesis: you wind up circling back to it and it becomes your conclusion and a self fulfilling prophecy.

  14. Adam L Silverman says:

    I knew I forgot something: the senior Iraqi Shi’a cleric that the US thought it would be dealing with wasn’t al Sistani. Sistani wound up the most senior because the Sadrists, apparently, killed his predecessor.

  15. Charles I says:

    curious, re: can somebody explain what this is? Is this a joke?
    Here’s another nugget, albeit from Debkafile, about developments along the border.
    “Syria partially mobilizes reserves as tensions rise on Israel’s northern border
    DEBKAfile Special Report
    January 22, 2010, 6:30 PM (GMT+02:00)
    Iranian and Syrian defense ministers shake on a military pact
    Friday, Jan. 22, Damascus ordered a Level 4 mobilization of Syria’s army reserves for deployment to the Golan Heights on the Israeli border, to meet what it calls “IDF plans of attack.” DEBKAfile’s military sources interpret Level 4 as referring to Syrian armored and commando brigades.
    In Lebanon, too, Hizballah has placed “all its forces” on a state of military preparedness. Our intelligence sources report that this order applies to the Iranian proxy’s strongholds across southern Lebanon and the Beqaa Valley, but not to its command posts in Beirut and other Lebanese cities.
    Damascus and Hizballah both claim that Israel has embarked on a large-scale military exercise along its northern borders to create a jumping-off point for striking Hizballah followed by raids into Syria.
    However, Western and Arab sources confirm that Israel made a point of reassuring Damascus and Beirut via American and UN intermediaries at the beginning of this week that the military units massed in the north were engaged solely in maneuvers with no aggressive intent.
    Far from being prompted by IDF war games, Syria and Hizballah are reported by our Iranian and military sources as acting out the secret military cooperation pacts they have just concluded with Tehran. The pacts were negotiated and signed during visits to Damascus by Iran’s National Security Adviser Saeed Jalili on Nov. 3 and its defense minister Ahmed Vahidi on Dec. 17.
    These treaties commit Syria to come to Hizballah’s aid if it comes under Israeli attack, and all three signatories to respond to any Israeli military movement. Our military sources believe Hizballah and Syria are taking advantage of the Israeli war game to test their own preparedness for attack on orders from Tehran.”
    I have seen comments from all sides that Gaza and Lebanon II are inevitable, no matter how ill advised.
    I imagine the Israeli’s far from being chastened by Goldstone, may calculate that this is the penultimate opportunity to pummel the neighbours without consequence, and hence really lay it on hoping this will achieve their ends, or at least reduce the targets – at home and abroad – to an impotent frenzy.
    Tuesday’s election and Haiti will certainly occupy the White house and the world’s attention, although the PCHR “Weekly Report(s): On Israeli Human Rights Violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory” make it clear that dozens of arrests, beatings, and homicides and building demolitions proceed unchecked, virtually unnoticed.
    Except in Turkey, it seems.

  16. Adam L Silverman says:

    Charles I:
    I’ve tracked the description back regarding the Syrian thing and the only report in any news source I’ve found that comes close to matching this description is an Associated Press Report in a Michigan Newspaper from 1983. Here’s the link:
    Also, no one that I trust to track news in the Middle East, Professor Cole, Professor Lynch, Mr. Ricks, or Mr. Hynd have any mention of any of this. Professor Cole and Professor Lynch both reference Israel and Gaza, but no mention of any Israeli or Syrian mobilization. My guess is that someone has gotten a wire crossed on something somewhere.

  17. b says:

    Haaretz: Hezbollah and Syria on alert fearing IDF attack on Lebanon
    Syria and Hezbollah have gone on alert anticipating an Israeli attack on Lebanon, the London-based A-Sharq al-Awsat daily reported on Friday.
    According to the report, Hezbollah has been monitoring with caution the reinforcement of Israel Defense Forces troops along the Lebanon border.


  18. Charles I says:

    No actual news of military dispositions, but further clarification of political intent can be found in Haaretz today.
    Netanyahu: Israel has no plans to attack Lebanon
    By Barak Ravid, Haaretz Correspondent, DPA and Haaretz Service
    Tags: Hezbollah, Israel Lebanon
    PM responds to minister’s remark that Israel and Hezbollah are headed toward inevitable military conflict.
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Saturday that Israel has no intention of carrying out an offensive against Lebanon, speaking hours after a minister in his cabinet said that a military conflict between Israel and the Lebanese militia Hezbollah was “inevitable.”
    Minister without portfolio Yossi Peled said earlier Saturday that “we can’t sleep easy” in regard to Israel’s shared border with Lebanon. He emphasized that “we’re in for another round in the north, but I don’t know when,” with the first round being the 34 days of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah during the Second Lebanon War in the summer of 2006.”
    In my Bizzaro world, whether I am wearing my tinfoil hat or not, Netanyahu’s words must be run through a filter that flips their meaning 180 degrees from the words spoken.
    Ergo, Lebanon II is coming, and there are desires to take a poke at Syria as well, nicely obviating any give-back-the-Golan peace diplomacy.

  19. Harper says:

    Don’t in the least underestimate the significance of Chalabi’s agentry on behalf of Iran. He had the Washington neocons totally bamboozled. He exploited their shallowness and their ideological delusions. Perle, Ledeen, Rhode, Lute, Wurmser, Feith, Shulsky–with all their training at the feet of Leo Strauss and his minions–got totally snookered. So much for their strategic prowess. Now we have the United States pinned down in Afpak, and yet there is still war rumbling against Iran. It seems to me obvious that the Al Quds Brigade of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is active as hell right now, since the Gulf is sliding into a nasty and possibly longterm Sunni v. Shia conflict. And unfortunately, the Saudis are fueling this with their military mis-adventures in Yemen, which is radicalizing the Houthi tribes, which have not, in the past, been aligned with Tehran. Now that they are under nasty military attack from the Saudis, with American hardware, they are likely to turn to Iran for arms and other help. This is the larger context in which to judge the Iraq situation. It is not a purely internal Iraqi affair, and it has not been from the outset.
    I remember attending an event at AEI weeks after the hot phase of the March 2003 invasion of Iraq had ended. Ruel Marc Gerecht was touted as their Iran/Persian expert, and he went on at great length about the democratizing drive of Shi’ite Islam, proclaiming that a Shi’ite dominated Iraq would be a democratic Iraq.

  20. DE Teodoru says:

    That’s exactly the issue, Prof. Silverman! Americans have not been short term dumb but awfully stupid long term as they did not have Iraq in mind when they rolled out their tactics, rather Israel and oil in that order. Once Israel is out and Baghdad and Tehran come to terms, the Kurds will no longer be an issue. Look at the Turkish-Israeli brouhaha as clue to Turkey’s role, replacing the Saudis as la main de force en lieu to medicate the rambunctious Kurds and Sunnis and to fit the pieces together as did the Ottomans. For Bush the goal was only NOT to lose and let it all fall on his successor. But that meant keeping intact a lot of documents Cheney thought he could destroy. History will be the stuff of DoJ indictments. Petraeus’s PhD thesis said a lot about his perspective of class-play for all the command moms and dads in order to get ahead. A plagiarized COIN manual gave the illusion that something new could be done. But in the end, as so well stated by Austin Long in an analysis and Steven Simon, Petraeus wrecked Iraq with his localism magic. That always works and it’s only a repeat of what the Brits and French used to do in order to pull out of colonies gracefully. The end result is gangland, not for power but for assets. And yet we’ll see as the Chinese replace us for they have a knack for exploiting such situations. Economic power like theirs is very strong medicine. Right now, for every Iraqi I know, the Americans leaving is like the Israelis leaving Lebanon was for Lebanese—FREE AT LAST, FREE AT LAST, PRAISE ALLAH, FREE AT LAST! alQaeda should also not be ruled out for it kept one foot in Shia, one in Sunni and may yet be a big player. And still, in the end, regional solutions– as with Afghanistan– are the only solutions. For that the despised reckless Americans who seek to build position at home on the illusions of accomplishments abroad and those who stole $5 for every$1 stolen by an Iraqi are the garbage they want out. Once SOFA accomplishes its laxative role to excrete us, then a whole new perspective will overtake Iraq. It won’t be pretty but it will be order.

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