Planting the gardens of Babylon

Planting the gardens of Babylon

“We are absolutely not a puppet … the reality is that government makes

the decisions, and we stand or fall by them.”

Barham Salih, Guardian 8.25.04

Salih said this two months after the U.S. “handover” of sovereignty to a U.S.-installed interim Iraqi government. He knows better. As does Independent correspondent Patrick Cockburn. Just four days before the June ceremony, in a report from Baghdad titled, “The Pretence of an Independent Iraq,” he wrote: “‘Our soldiers call them the League of Frightened Gentlemen,’ said an American officer pointing derisively towards the building in the so-called green zone in Baghdad, housing the US-led coalition Provisional Authority which has ruled Iraq for over a year. It is a miserable record. Isolated behind the concrete walls of the green zone, Paul Bremer, the head of the CPA, presided over a sort of Washington-on-Tigris, visibly out of touch with the political realities of Iraq and absorbed in its own bureaucratic civil wars … Most of the changes will be cosmetic. The new Iraqi government will have only limited power.

The priority of the White House in the run-up to the US presidential elections in November is to stop bad news from Iraq leading the nightly television news or dominating the front pages of the newspapers. The main instrument to achieve this is to pretend that an independent Iraq is being created which can fight its own wars.” (6.23.04)

Washington doesn’t really expect Iraq to fight its own wars. Nor does Washington want Iraq to fight its own wars. Take this leading indicator from a Washington Post report by Robin Wright on the following day: “The Bush administration has decided to take the unusual step of bestowing on its own troops and personnel immunity from prosecution by Iraqi courts for killing Iraqis or destroying local property after the occupation ends and political power is transferred to an interim Iraqi government, U.S. officials said. The administration plans to accomplish that step … by extending an order that has been in place during the year-long occupation of Iraq …

“The administration is taking the step in an effort to prevent the new Iraqi government from having to grant a blanket waiver as one of its first acts, which could undermine its credibility, just as it assumes power. But U.S. officials said Washington’s act could also create the impression that the United States is not turning over full sovereignty–and giving itself special privileges.” (6.24.04)

On June 27th the Post cited these measures meant to confer sovereignty, in name only: “U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer has issued a raft of edicts revising Iraq’s legal code and has appointed at least two dozen Iraqis to government jobs with multi-year terms in an attempt to promote his concepts of governance long after the planned handover of political authority on Wednesday …

“Among the most controversial orders is the enactment of an elections law that gives a seven-member commission the power to disqualify political parties and any of the candidates they support. The effect of other regulations could last much longer. Bremer has ordered that the national security adviser and the national intelligence chief chosen by the interim prime minister he selected. Ayad Allawi, be given five-year terms, imposing Allawi’s choices on the elected government that is to take over next year. Bremer has also appointed Iraqis handpicked by his aides to influential positions in the interim government …

“As of June 14, Bremer had issued 97 legal orders, which are defined by the U.S. occupation authority as ‘binding instructions or directives to the Iraqi people,’ that will remain in force even after the transfer of political authority. An annex to the country’s interim constitution requires the approval of a majority of Allawi’s ministers, as well as the interim president and two vice presidents, to overturn any of Bremer’s edicts …

“But perhaps Bremer’s most far-reaching and potentially contentious order is the election law … The law states that no party can be associated with a militia or get money from one. It also requires the electoral commission to draft a code of conduct barring campaigners from using ‘hate speech, intimidation, and support for, the practice of and the use of terrorism’ …

“Juan Cole, a University of Michigan professor who specializes in Iraq, said the appointed electoral commission’s power to eliminate political parties or candidates for not obeying laws would allow it ‘to disqualify people someone didn’t like.”

Questioned about the new edicts, Bremer let the cat out of the bag without so much as a blink. “You set up these things and they begin to develop a certain life and momentum on their own–and it’s harder to reverse course,” he said. (WP 6.27.04) Precisely the point.

Writing in Counterpunch, Patrick Cockburn had this to say on Iraq’s appointed prime minister: “Mr. Allawi will now play a vital role in US plans … Mr. Allawi has grandiose plans for a beefed-up Iraqi security force, but at the moment he has little armed strength. He must depend on the 138,000 U.S., troops in the country for the foreseeable future. The elaborate security measures protecting Mr. Allawi as he speaks defiantly to his enemies make clear his reliance on the U.S.” (6.27.04)

Under these circumstances, it came as no surprise to read this statement in a Washington Post Op Ed under Allawi’s name: “As Iraqis, we thank the coalition for the sacrifices made by its soldiers and its people for the liberation and rebuilding of Iraq, and for the contributions by all countries, international organizations and non governmental organizations that have braved the risks to help Iraq in its time of need.” (6.27.04)

Meanwhile Reuters reported that Iraqis were “awaiting sovereignty in darkness … up to 14 hours a day without power.” But Iraqis who see the light must know that more than electricity is lacking. Truth be told, Iraqis will be spending the foreseeable future without another kind of power. For those who missed the writing on the wall, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said aloud, “We will be the dominant voice. The Department of State is taking the lead now.” (AP 6.28.04)

In a essay captioned, “Nothing has Changed: Getting Away with Murder in Iraq,” Lebanese writer Tariq Ali looked first to the past and observed: “The irony in this case is that, as all Iraqis remember, this is a farcical repeat of what the British did after World War I when they received a League of Nations mandate to run Iraq. When the lease expired they kept their military bases and dominated Iraqi politics. The British embassy in Baghdad made the key decisions,” he recalled.

Now he tackled the present: “After June 30 it will be the US embassy that will play this role, and John Negroponte, a tried and tested colonial official, who watched benignly as the death squads created mayhem in Central America, will be the de factor ruler of Iraq. The former CIA agent, Ayad Allawi, who worked as a low-level spy for the Saddam regime and was responsible for handing over the names of numerous dissidents, will be the new ‘Prime Minister.’ How can even the most naive camp follower of the American empire regard this operation as a transfer of sovereignty?…

“Few doubt the two key demands of any genuinely elected government in Iraq would be (a) the withdrawal of all foreign troops and (b) Iraqi control of Iraqi oil. It is this that unites a large bulk of the country …

“Nothing will change in Iraq after June 30. It is a make-believe world where things are made to mean what the occupiers want them to mean and not what they really are. It is the Iraqi resistance that will determine the future of the country. It is the actions targeting both foreign soldiers and corporate mercenaries that have made the occupation untenable. It is their presence that has prevented Iraq from being relegated to the inside pages of the print media and forgotten by TV. It is the courage of the people of Baghdad, Basra and Fallujah that has exposed the political leaders of the West who supported this enterprise. The only response the US has got left is to increase the repression, but whether Negroponte will go in for the big kill before the US presidential election remains to be seen.” (Counterpunch 7.1.04)

In a report titled “Torture and Lies as Policy: America’s Criminal Occupation,” Roger Normand, director of the New York-based Center for Economic and Social Rights, highlighted these internationally recognized requisites regarding the occupation of a sovereign state: “The laws of occupation–derived primarily from The Hague and Geneva Conventions and the International Bill of Human Rights impose two fundamental obligations on Occupying Powers. First and foremost is to withdraw military forces and end the occupation as soon as possible. Second is to safeguard the rights of the occupied population during the temporary period before the occupation is ended. The occupier gains no sovereign rights and is prohibited from manipulating the country’s future, plundering its resources, and repressing its people.” Normand listed these breaches:

“Failure to allow self determination. The U.S. is appointing Iraqi leaders without elections or popular participation … retaining control over security matters, building an extensive network of military bases throughout the country, and transforming the economy along free market lines …

“Failure to ensure public safety: The U.S. created a climate of unchecked lawlessness by eliminating the entire army and police forces …

“Detention and Torture. The Red Cross estimates that up to 90 percent of Iraqis in detention are innocent civilians swept up in illegal mass arrests and held incommunicado from family members without charge or due process …

“Collective Punishment. Taking lessons from Israeli war crimes in occupied Palestine, the U.S. has imposed collective punishment on Iraqi civilians. Tactics include demolishing civilian homes, ordering curfews in populated areas, preventing free movement through checkpoints and road closures, sealing off entire towns and villages, and using indiscriminate force on crowded urban areas, causing widespread and unnecessary civilian casualties …

“Failure to Protect Economic and Social Rights … essential public services such as electricity, water, and sanitation have only deteriorated under the American occupation … The U.S. exacerbated joblessness by summarily dismissing workers with any association to the former Baath regime, including civil servants, teachers, engineers, and other professions; 60 per cent of Iraqis are now unemployed. The health infrastructure is a shambles, drugs and medical supplies are in short supply, and medical staffs report disease outbreaks and increased mortality … Over 70 percent of the population depends on a monthly food ration … The education system has broken down, with two-thirds of school-age children in Baghdad skipping school because of dilapidated conditions, lack of teachers, and fears of crime …

“Fundamentally Changing the Economy … imposing drastic free market ‘reforms’ through executive fiat. These orders permit privatization of state enterprises, 100 percent foreign ownership of Iraqi firms, tax-free repatriation of investment profits, 40-year leases on contracts, a flat tax rate of 15 percent, and the abolition of all tariffs and protective trade measures. In effect, the entire reconstruction process has been run as a form of thinly disguised plunder, with politically-connected American (and some British) corporations pocketing billions of dollars in bloated contracts while Iraq slides into chaos and poverty.” (Counterpunch 7.1.04)

These are not the only administration failures in Iraq. In the U.K., a report sponsored by the Liberal Democrats and Christian Aid found what it termed “glaring gaps in the handling of $20 billion generated by Iraq’s oil and other sources.” Christian Aid spokeswoman Helen Collison told a press briefing, “For the entire year that the CPA [led by Paul Bremer] has been in power in Iraq, it has been impossible to tell with any accuracy what the CPA has been doing with Iraq’s money.” (AP 6.28.04)

Rather than account for the gaps, U.S. occupation authorities dispatched Iraq’s Kurdish Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, to Brussels to demand money and political support from the European Union. “We expect concrete aid from the EU and from countries individually … concrete aid not just words,” he dared say. “We expect the EU to support us during the reconstruction phase and in the political process and also with the organization of the next elections.” (Reuters 7.12.04)

Meanwhile the administration dispatched another Kurd, PUK chief Jalal Talabani, to “negotiate” with Turkey over the future status of the Iraqi city of Kirkuk. Whereupon Turkey’s Deputy Chief of General Staff, Gen. Ilker Basbug, made this tongue-in-cheek remark to reporters, “Of course, this is the Iraqis’ decision.” Not in Kurdish minds, as evidenced in the Kurdistan Observer report caption, “Turkey and Kurds Coming to an Agreement over Kirkuk.” (7.15.04) Under the wing of Washington, the Kurdish leader was simultaneously acting like the head of a sovereign state of Kurdistan and a representative of the government of Iraq. This was only a single manifestation of the stadium of the absurd that Iraq has become.

In late July Foreign Minister Zebari accused the Arabic language satellite channel Aljazeera of “one-sided” and “distorted” coverage. “They [Aljazeera and other Arabic channels] have all become incitement channels which are against the interests of security, the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people,” he said. “The new Iraqi government will not tolerate these kinds of intentional breaches and violations.” (Aljazeera 7.25.04) It is nothing less than an irony that this Kurd, a top official in the Kurdistan Democratic Party, should associate himself, and Kurds, with tactics employed by Saddam Hussein regime, a regime that so repressed Kurdish dissent. To make matters worse, the Kurd was now an agent of repressing Arab dissent.

In an article for Asia Times, Michael Weinstein offered this explanation: “The Kurds have been more cooperative with the occupation than any other community, but that is only because their aims have been fulfilled so far.” For now, is key here. But what will come of this lopsided liaison? Weinstein put it this way: “As attempts are made to force compromises on them, the Kurds are likely to be the community that resists national integration the most.” (7.20.04) Not to worry. This is precisely the idea.

Suppression of dissent in Iraq is not confined to Arabic news sources. Shortly thereafter, the highest Sunni authority in the country, the Association of Muslim Scholars, ran afoul of the U.S. design for dividing Iraq, with particular attention to the Kurdish north, when members spoke out against federalism “based on ethnicity.” Specifically, Dr. Muthana al-Dhari, son of the leader of the Board of Muslim Clergy, said during an interview with the Lebanese Broadcasting Co.: “We support a federalism that guarantees the rights of all ethnicities in Iraq. All parties in Iraq, including our own, agrees with such an approach. We understand Kurdish aspirations, but sadly our Kurdish brothers are demanding a federalism on the basis of ethnicity. However, we have great concerns regarding federalism; we think it may be a tool to tear Iraq apart in the future …

“The existence of a governing council based on ethnic and sectarian divisions is the reason behind tensions in many parts of Iraq. The latest clashes in Kirkuk would not have happened if there was not a sectarian and ethnically based governing council. Even the governmental organizations in Iraq are sectarian and ethnically based. It hinders any progress in Iraq.”

If this wasn’t eough to rile the Americans, Dr. al-Dhari complained about the occupation: “The occupation authorities target the whole Iraqi people, but there is no doubt the Iraqi Sunni Muslims are suffering the most because of false information given by former Iraqi exiles and opponents. We have been making great efforts to prevent the US forces from suppressing and humiliating our people. Our efforts have some success, but the problem is that US officials never keep thei. promises. They have arrested many Sunni clerics who they allege use the Friday prayer to call for resistance, and sent us letters in this regard, but when we check the dates of incidents mentioned, we find it is not even a Friday.” (Aljazeera 8.2.04)

For exercising his freedom of speech, Dr. al-Dhari was taken into custody by U.S. marines. He must have thought he was still living in the old Iraq. As University of Michigan professor, Juan Cole, rightly noted: “Iraq’s new strongman, Allawi, was making sure “that political figures who refuse to cooperate in the national congress and who are critical of him will be arrested.” (Informed Comment 8.3.04)

Saddam Hussein must have been smiling. Michael Weinstein put it this way: “The most likely possibility for the emergence of a standard Middle Eat dictatorship in Iraq is the continuation of the present transitional government, with Prime Minister Iyad Allawi as its strongman. Allawi, who has a reputation as an authoritarian, has already instituted legislation permitting the imposition of martial law and has begun to use the security forces at his disposal to mount raids on criminals and insurgents … He announced the formation of a General Security Directorate–a domestic intelligence agency with policing functions–that will serve as a base of his power if he is successful in building it up … If he is even moderately successful, he will decisively gain the upper hand and will be poised to become a figure like Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, consolidating a political machine dependent on his largess, with a security apparatus to protect it that would have US aid and support in return for general compliance with US policy. It is Allawi’s distance from communal politics and from Iraqi popular opinion that makes him a possible strongman. He is beholden to nothing but the deals he can make and the power he can deploy …” (Asia Times 7.20.04)

The clampdown on dissent was not missed by Iraqi news sources. Commenting on the arrest of Dr. al-Dhari, at the al-Basaer newspaper, Sabah Ahmad told Aljazeera, “Journalists in Iraq condemn the arrest of Dr. Muthana … It appears that he was arrested for saying something in a broadcast interview that the US occupation authorities did not like.” (8.2.04) Five days later the messenger was the target. Allawi accused Aljazeera of “inciting hatred” and banned its broadcasts for 30 days. (Independent 8.7.04)

Next on Washington’s hit list were two most favored Iraqis Ahmad Chalabi and nephew Salem. While they were out of the country, an Iraqi judge issued warrants for their arrests–Ahmad for counterfeiting, and Salem for the murder of the director general of the finance ministry. Ahmad was the Iraqi exile favored by the Pentagon as a source of intelligence, false intelligence as it turned out, and prime prospect to lead the new Iraq. Only weeks earlier Salem was chosen by U.S. occupation authorities to head the special tribunal that will try Saddam Hussein. (Washington Post 8.8.04)

On August 9th AP reported that Ahmad claimed the warrants were “were part of a political conspiracy trumped up by former Saddam Hussein loyalists.” On the same day Reuters quoted him as saying: “The principal motive is to keep me out of the political process or hamper my participation in it … The Americans create structures in the judiciary and special units in the police and security which are ostensibly part of the government of Iraq which have covert channels to the Americans who direct them to do their bidding.”

“I reject those accusations categorically,” said Adam Erelli at the State Department. “This is an Iraqi decision, by Iraqi courts, based on Iraqi authorities.” Ever at the ready, Ahmad Chalabi pointed to the judge who issued the warrants. “The U.S.-led administration promoted Maliki from junior lawyer to judge after he worked as an interpreter for U.S. forces,” he said.

Now Reuters reported new charges: “Formerly a darling of the Pentagon, Chalabi has fallen foul of his old paymasters who accuse him of supplying false intelligence over Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction and of leaking secrets to Iran.” (8.10.04) Meanwhile thousands of Shi’ites demonstrated in Nassiriya, setting fire to the local office of the Iraqi National Accord, PM Allawi’s political party, and calling for his resignation. In Najaf demonstrators shouted. “Down, down Allawi,” “Allawi, you coward, you American agent.”

“No one in his right mind could call Saddam a Muslim,” said Shi’a cleric Muqtada al Sadr, whose Mehdi militia was fighting the U.S. military. “But what these people are doing is far worse than what Saddam did to Iraq.” (Aljazeera 8.15.04) As he spoke, the U.S. was bombing his militia in Najaf.

And in Baghdad, claiming they had come under attack, U.S. troops surrounded a mosque housing the offices of the Association of Muslim Scholars. “They know that Um al-Qura mosque only hosts the AMS, which always calls on people to be reasonable and not escalate the situation,” said a spokesman. “But at the same time, the AMS rejects the occupation and encourages Iraqis who want to overthrow it.”

On August 16th as proposed by UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, 1,300 political and religious leaders convened to pick a 100-member national council to oversee the interim government until the January elections. But even this agglomeration of Iraqis was pre-fabricated. Ghassan al-Attiya, former Governing Council member and now a member of the council’s preparatory committee, complained of the questionable makeup of the group: “Regrettably, it was the IGC’s ‘sharing out the cake’ attitude which determined the way the Preparatory Committee was put together in its final 100-member form,” he told Reuters. “The committee failed to approach opposition and marginal players in order to secure their serious, as opposed to token, participation at the conference … preserving the dominance of the same forces that used to control the IGC. This prompted a number of the outsiders who were invited to join the committee to decline. Others, myself included, accepted–in the hope that things could be put right from within the tent more effectively than from outside it …

“Yet when the decision was taken to form the committee, 20 former IGC members who were not given government or presidency jobs were automatically made members of it. They even had seats reserved for them on the unborn Advisory Council–whose 100 members are supposed to be elected by the 1,000 National Conference delegates.

“Four of the party leaders who sat on the IGC were also allowed to delegate their own representatives, a privilege not extended to other political figures. The leaders of the Dawa Party, Ibrahim Jafari, and the National Accord, Iyad Allawi, were given the right to represent their respective parties. Add to the list the Preparatory Committee Chairman Fuad Masoum, and the two former ministers serving on it, and at least one quarter of the membership of the body turns out to be a mere extension of the IGC.” (Al-Ahram Weekly 8.8.04)

Meanwhile Kurds were up in arms for an entirely different reason. According to the Kurdish weekly Jamawar, a new communique from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense stipulated “that the Kurdish language is not a national language, and must not be used in any establishment of the Ministry.” Indignant, the report stressed that “no Kurd among those who work in the Ministry has challenged the instruction.” The Transitional Administrative Law (TAL) named Kurdish as one of two official languages. (Kurdish Media 8.10.04)

Not surprisingly the Beirut-based Daily Star noted that that the “Kurdish leadership is being blamed by Iraqi Kurds for selling out to the Americans to maintain their stranglehold on political and economic power.” (8.13.04) Speaking of selling out, when forced to admit that the $10 billion needed to restore Iraq’s water system was nowhere to be found, Water Resources Minister Abdul Latif Rasheed, blamed “circumstances” and not the U.S. “I don’t think the Americans have let us down,” he told Reuters. “The circumstances have changed.” (8.9.04)

Money for Iraq’s water system was not all that was “nowhere to be found.” In late August an audit conducted by the Coalition Provisional Authority’s inspector general found that “$8.8 billion dispensed to Iraqi ministries by the former Coalition Provision authority under Paul Bremer” could not be accounted for. Irate, three Democratic Senators–Ron Wyden (D-OR), Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Byron Dorgan (D-ND)–sent a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. “The CPA apparently transferred this staggering sum of money with no written rules or guidelines for ensuring adequate managerial, financial or contractual controls over the funds,” it read. “Such enormous discrepancies raise very serious questions about potential fraud, waste and abuse.” (Aljazeera 8.20.04)

Meanwhile, resettlement in the north of the country was going everywhere and nowhere. According to Agence France Press: “Iraq’s property claims commission for disputed land in oil-rich northern Iraq has failed to process a single claim, despite more than 167,400 people resettling in dozens of refugee camps since March alone, a US commander said. More than 153,000 of them are Kurds. Major General John Batiste warned that the ‘brewing crisis is the biggest problem facing the 1st Infantry Division … outweighing the threats of foreign fighters and insurgents in Sunni Muslim trouble spots north of Baghdad … The Property Claims Commission is not working. 5,399 claims have been filed, but 143,222 IDPs are trying to resettle.'”

Gen. Batiste commented on the role of the Kurdish parties, suggesting that they have their own agenda in advance of the January 2005 elections. As he put it: “If their agenda is to move people south of the Green Line (a US military term to denote the area around Kirkuk) not using the process, you can infer from that there’s an organized movement to do that. That has the potential to flare up a lot of ethnic tension. When you walk the streets of Hawija you will hear the words civil war muttered often. These could play out if you allow resettlement to continue unbridled.” (AFP 9.3.04)

But don’t be fooled. Washington has made plans to deal with the prospect of civil war. Kurds have been allowed to keep their militias intact, while those of Sunni and Shi’s Arabs are dismantled, either by payment or by force in order to render them incapable of mounting a serious challenge to U.S. plans to federate the country unevenly, giving the Kurdish north virtual independence, independence in essence but not in fact. Skeptics might examine closely the statements of President Bush to the UN General Assemly, including in particular this one: “The UN, and its member nations, must respond to Prime Minister Allawi’s request, and do more to help build an Iraq that is secure, democratic, federal, and free.” Clearly Iraq will be federated, but Iraq will be neither free nor democratic.

As Reuters intimated in an august 28 report: “Iraq’s elections next year might not end up being free and fair because of the insurgency but holding them is better than having no poll at all, a senior Iraqi politician said on Sunday. ‘In all elections in the world, breaches occur. I don’t think that elections in Iraq are going to be 100 percent free and fair.” The senior “Iraqi” politician dispatched to prepare the country for the less than desirable was the Kurdish politician, Fouad Massoum. For this and other tasks, he would be rewarded with the presidency of the National Council.

“Brahimi, with Bremer’s approval, endorsed communalism, with Iraqi de

facto divided among Shia Arabs, Sunni Arabs and Kurds …”

Bilal Ahmad, National Review, 6.14.04

Those who claim the U.S. went to war without a plan “to win the peace,” as presidential contender Kerry is wont to say, are wrong, dead wrong. The plan that germinated during the administration of Bush 1 to win the Middle East proceeded apace through the Clinton administration and came into bloom during the reign of Bush II. Not a single decision made by Republican and Democratic administrations has veered from the plan to bring Israel’s enemies to heel by reordering the region. Not a single decision regarding Iraqi Kurdistan, where Israel wants a permanent outpost, has veered from that covert road map.

On August 30th the 100-member National Council convened. According to Agence France Presse, it was “dismissed by detractors as a weak rubber stamp for an unelected government but hailed by admirers as a step nearer democracy.” Massoum was chosen as president, AFP suggested, because the premiership and the presidency had been given to Shiite and Sunni Arabs. Of the 100 members, 64 are Arabs, 24 Kurds, six Turkmen, two Assyrians, two Chaldeans one Mandean and one Shabaq. (9.1.04) Within days of the opening KDP leader Masoud Barzani resigned citing pressing obligations in the Kurdish north. No wonder Tariq Ali described Iraqi sovereignty as “a grotesque fiction.”

“I have a sinking feeling that the American public may like Bush’s cynical misuse of Wilsonian idealism precisely because it covers the embarrassment of their having gone to war, killed perhaps 25,000 people, and made a perfect mess of the Persian Gulf region, all out of a kind of paranoia fed by dirty tricks and had intelligence,” wrote Professor Juan Cole. “And, maybe they have to vote for Bush to cover the embarrassment of having elected him in the first place. How deep a hole are they going to dig themselves in order to get out of the bright sunlight of so much embarrassment?” (Informed Comment 9.21.04) Alas, deep enough to become a bottomless pit.

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