"Evil is powerless if the good are unafraid" - Ronald Reagan

New York

‘Sons of Iraq’ Meet With Iraqi Leaders to Clarify Changeover

From MNF-I.

The Sons of Iraq (SoI) program is noted for significantly reducing violence and assisting to secure the populous in Iraq. Shortly, SoI members will be transitioned from US Army to Iraqi Security Force control. Maj. Gen. Abdulkreem Abdulrahman Al-Izi, commander of Rusafa Area Command and 1st NP Div., had this to say,

“We want to show that we are working with the SoI to coordinate our work with them,”....

One SoI leader asked for clarity concerning rumors about the GoI hiring and immediately firing SoI from the positions the Iraqi government are giving them as a reward for their service to Iraq. He said he heard only 20 percent would be hired to work with the ISF and everyone else in the SoI would be unemployed.

Abdulrahman explained that the prime minister’s order outlines that 20 percent of the SoI will work with the ISF and 80 percent will be employed with the civilian Iraqi government as a reward for their efforts, as long as they have not committed crimes against innocent Iraqis.

Future security and prosperity of Iraq is dependent upon the successful handover of SoI contracts to the GoI. While this transition is worrisome, one has to believe that Iraqi leaders nor the American military would allow this transition to occur in such a way to increase violence in Iraq. It will take a long time for Iraqi leadership to trust SoI members as many are possibly former insurgents. However, continued committment by the GoI and SoI can make this transition more transparent. The recent meeting held by General Abdulrahman goes a long way in ensuring all parties of the government's committment to SoI members.

It is good to see that not only will 20 percent be employed in the Iraqi Security Forces, but the other 80 percent will most likely be given civilian sector employment. For now, American Forces need to monitor this transition and ensure all sides are maintaining their committments.

For a full read, click here.

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Militants shake off Pakistan's grip

From Syed Saleem Shahzad writing for the Asia Times Online.

Behind closed doors in Washington, London and Islamabad a few months ago, the consensus was to initiate a strategic phase of "conflict escalation" in the region, even though it was acknowledged that the price for this would be a surge in militancy in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

This is what happened, and, given the popularity of the Taliban among Pashtun tribes in Afghanistan and Pakistan, peace treaties were then viewed as the best solution, provided the terms and conditions were set by the international and regional players and not by the Taliban.

This did not work, as militant activities have broken the will of Pakistan's leaders, so much so that they are using back channels to sign new peace agreements, but this time on the Taliban's terms.

For a full read of Mr. Shahzad's sobering assessment of Pakistan, click here.

I am not sure I agree with this assessment as spectacularly brutal Al Qaeda attacks in the past have only turned moderate Muslims away from Al Qaeda if a military presence provided security to the population. However, I do recognize this is a big if in Pakistan.

Escalation of attacks in the FATA and NWFP regions in Pakistan are needed to take pressure off of Afghanistan. Simultaneously, these attacks in Pakistan are intended to disrupt future planning and logistics of militants in Pakistan.

A push by Pakistani ground forces aided by precision air power from the US (whether Predator drones or Air Force fighter/bombers) may be needed to significantly disrupt militants in these regions.

While the initial reaction will be a loss of support for the Pakistani government by the people, weakening Al Qaeda/Taliban rule in the region and the presence of Pakistani troops providing security for the populous can shift this initial loss of support into strong support for a Pakistani military presence providing security and liberty for Pakstanis in this region.

While I agree with Mr. Shahzad that this escalation of conflict is not without risk, if played correctly, it could solve the militancy issue in Pakistan once and for all. However, I too am concerned whether the Pakistani leadership and military can pull off this conflict escalation and see it through to its nature end. Simultaneously, I am also concerned about how upcoming US elections may result in a dramatic shift of policy in mid-stream of this conflict escalation in Pakistan.

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Report: Iranians Behind Recent Attacks In Iraq


Qassem Ata, spokesman for the Baghdad Security Plan, has warned residents of the city of possible suicide operations by Iranian infiltrators in holy places during the 'Eid Al-Fitr holiday.

He said that Iranians who had infiltrated into Iraq were behind recent suicide attacks in the country.

Iran has recently pushed Special Group operatives across the border into Iraq to continue to promote instability in the region. Iraq's ability to thwart these attacks will be a test of their ability to maintain security in their country. The full analysis of these Special Groups is in the above link.

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Iraq launches major offensive against Qaeda

From Alsumaria.

Interior Ministry spokesman Brigadier Abdul Karim Khalaf announced that Iraqi Forces launched a wide scale military operation against Al Qaeda strongholds in Diyala since Wednesday in counter to the most violent attack Iraqi Forces were subject to in the province.

Separately, the death toll of the armed ambush set against a joint police and awakening council patrol in Al Dulaimat village in Khan Bani Saad in Diyala rose to 35 deaths, security sources reported.

The sources clarified that deaths include 27 policemen among whom 3 officers and eight members of awakening councils.

Meanwhile, one US soldier was killed in a suicide bombing targeting awakening councils and police, the US military reported.

Moreover, Defense Ministry spokesman Brigadier Mohammed Al Askari announced that three leaders were killed including a Saudi while three other Al Qaeda members were arrested in a crackdown on Thursday in Mosul.

After a brief amnesty period, another offensive is launched in Diyala.

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UN Chief: Approving elections law major step

From Alsumaria.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon welcomed approval of Iraq’s provincial elections law which he deemed as a major step forward that should contribute to political normalization. Moon’s spokeswoman Michele Montas affirmed that the United Nations will pursue support to the electoral committee in order to ensure all measures aimed to hold credible elections at the right time accepted by the Iraqi people.

The Iraqi Parliament has approved a provincial election law. This act paves the way for provincial elections within the next 4-6 months. This young democracy if forging ahead slowly but surely.

Update: What’s after approving Iraq elections law?

What are the key points of the new law?

The law stipulates to use an open list electoral system where voters can choose specific candidates while the old law refers to a closed list system where they could only select political parties. The new law does not cover the three provinces of Kurdistan. Polls there will be conducted according to a separate law that the region's parliament needs to write and pass.

The new law has some major changes in it. For a good question and answer summarization, click the link above.

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Al-Qaida Top militant Held For Marriott Bombing


Pakistani security agencies Tuesday claimed to have arrested a close aide of Al-Qaida's number two Ayman al-Zawahiri, in connection with the Marriott Hotel bombing in the capital Islamabad that killed more than 50 persons and injured more than 250 others.

If truly a close aide to Zawahiri, this capture may prove to be very significant in the coming days, weeks, and months.

For a full read, click here.

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How to Defeat al Qaeda: Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There

From CQ.

Don’t believe him? Consider, Bergen says, al Qaeda’s strategic errors: the bombings in Indonesia in 2002 and 2005, which killed about 222 and wounded 338; the bombings in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in 2003, which killed about 35 and wounded more than 160; the hotel bombings in Amman, Jordan, in 2005, which killed about 60 and wounded 115; and, of course, Sept. 11, which killed nearly 3,000. Al Qaeda’s attacks have been so egregious, even Osama bin Laden’s spiritual mentor, Salman al-Awda, took, to the airwaves in 2007 to denounce the al Qaeda leader, and his tactics, by name.

Now, al Qaeda is suspected of being involved in the Marriott Hotel bombings in Pakistan this past weekend, which so far has killed 53 and wounded more than 260.

What all these attacks have in common is the condemnation of not only the mostly Islamic governments of the countries where they occurred but also other Islamists. Al Qaeda’s indiscriminate killing of innocent Muslims in Iraq and elsewhere has only intensified the jihad from within.

While I believe Al Qaeda is self-destructing from within due to its brutal tactics, I do believe its brutal tactics would more likely lead to intimidation of a populous if not confronted by a strong military seeking to secure the population and fighting against Al Qaeda.

However, I do agree with the article when it states we [thru our military forces] will not defeat Al Qaeda, only Islam will. For Islam to succeed in defeating Al Qaeda, these countries need to be supported by all our instruments of national power. Suporting governments fighting against the war of terror is the diplomatic arm of the four instruments of national power. Showing Al Qaeda's atrocities is the informational arm. Al Qaeda's source of fighters need to be given other employment, the economic arm of national power.

All four instruments of national power must be used in conjunction. In Iraq, the government needed to be overthrown, which is why the military instrument was the most heavily used. So to in Afghanistan. However, Pakistan freely elected a democratic government. In this region, we need to focus our effort on informational, diplomatic, and economic efforts; however, the military arm still needs to be used to keep the insurgents off balance.

For a full read, click here.

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Iraqi Officials Say 22 Troops Killed in Ambush Northeast of Baghdad

From FOX News.

Gunmen ambushed Iraqi forces raiding a Sunni village northeast of Baghdad on Wednesday, killing 22 policemen and U.S.-allied fighters, U.S. and Iraqi officials said.

The attackers in the insurgent stronghold of Othmaniyah apparently had been tipped off about the raid and were waiting for the Iraqi forces to arrive, officials said.

For a full read, click here.

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Report: Syria Deploys Troops On Lebanese Border


The Lebanese daily Al-Mustaqbal reports that Syria has massively deployed army troops on the northern part of its border with Lebanon.

It was also reported that the main force is positioned in the Al-Dabousiya area, overlooking the nearby border crossing.

Sources in the region assessed that judging by the earthworks and tents, the move is not temporary.

Things that make you go Hmmmm.

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The gloves are off in Pakistan

From Syed Saleem Shahzad writing for the Asia Times Online.

Pakistani authorities have compared Saturday evening's devastating truck suicide attack on the Marriott Hotel in the capital Islamabad to the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

In terms of its psychological effect, the blast, which killed more than 80 people, injured hundreds and burnt out the hotel, has traumatized the nation, and, like 9/11, marks the beginning of a new battle: this time not the "war on terror", but the war by terrorists.

Pakistan is now the declared battleground in this struggle by Islamic militants to strike first against American interests before the United States' war machine completes its preparations to storm the sanctuaries of al-Qaeda in Pakistan.

Just how will Pakistan fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban? Syed Saleem Shahzad notes in his article that over 300 American "trainers" just arrived in Pakistand and have taken over large area in Tarbella where the CIA operated out of in the 1990s.

There is little doubt in the minds of those familiar with the American activities at Tarbella that preparations are being made for an all-out offensive in North-West Frontier Province against sanctuaries belonging to the Taliban and al-Qaeda led by bin Laden. Pakistani security sources maintain more American troops will arrive in the coming days.

Now the battle for Pakistan begins in earnest.

I noted before Al Qaeda's bombing of the Marriott hotel was a huge mistake. It did not accomplish its tactical objective (killing Pakistani and foreign leaders) nor its operational objective (making the Pakistani leadership succumb to Al Qaeda's rule), and it had strategic consequences. Pakistanis themselves do not want a rampant insurgency in their country. The Marriott bombing shows they have one and the newly elected leadership will now go after them in earnest. The Marriott bombing has allowed the Pakistani leadership to take off their shackles to allow the full force of American Intelligence into Pakistan to hunt for the Taliban and Al Qaeda leadership.

Do not forget that Pakistan represents Al Qaeda's last unassailable base from which to plan, coordinate, and conduct terrorist training and operations. Al Qaeda saw this battle coming with the loss of Iraq which is why Al Qaeda forces there have been redirected to Pakistan and Afghanistan. With the surge of forces in Afghanistan and Pakistani forces in the FATA/NWFP region, Al Qaeda and the Taliban will now be battling for their last remaining sanctuary.

Expect a tough, violent battle in this region. As the battle continues, expect Al Qaeda to alienate the Pakistani population more and more with indiscriminant attacks on innocent civilians to intimidate them. However, expect the Pakistani military to provide security rapidly for the population effectively limiting the intimidation. With an intelligence network already deeply entrenched in Pakistan, Al Qaeda and the Taliban will not last for very long. Nor will Pakistani leaders who are in bed with these members.

Looking back, one can understand why Al Qaeda fears a democracy more than anything else. It spells their death and destruction.

As we look forward from 9/11, we see several democracies on the rise in Muslim countries -- Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Al Qaeda made Iraq its central front of its war of terror. It lost that battleground despite the help of some unlikely players, namely Iran and Syria. The small surge of American troops in Afghanistan coupled with a new defensive posture of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan due to attacks directly in Pakistan will result in Afghanistan's democracy coming of age next year or a year later. Finally, with its defeat in Pakistan, we will now have three countries which have fought and won their democratic right.

The only thing we need to do at this point is to continue to support democratic reforms in these countries. This fact should be the crux of the debate when American go to the polls in November.

Al Qaeda's 9/11 attacks not only sought to bring down America militarily, but also economically. It was close to achieving its goal, and may very well do so in the near future. However, we should not go down without a fight. It appears the real fight has just begun, now that the battle for Pakistan begins in earnest.

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Armed groups cross into Iraq for attacks

From Alsumaria.

Dhi Qar police chief Sabah Al Fitlawi affirmed that extremist armed groups that have trained in Iran have entered the country the last past days in aim to execute bombings targeting senior officials. Al Fitlawi noted that these special groups which include each 10 militants have crossed the borders from Iran into Amara City. He asserted that these forces are targeted against officials around Iraq mainly in Al Nassiriya. He clarified that local authorities have intensified security measures and banned circulation of motorcycles.

This action from Iran will be a good test for Iraqi Security and Coalition Forces' ability to track down these Special Group militants and detain/kill them. PM Maliki's recent surges in Basra, Maysan, and Sadr City effectively defeated Special Groups in Iraq causing them to either die in battle, disperse and go to ground, or retreat back to Iran.

Iran has been training Special Groups in an attempt to re-establish their influence within Iran. From this article it appears the training is complete (of at least the first group) and Iran is wanting to re-establish their influence as quickly as possible.

A couple of points here are worth mentioning.

1. Al Qaeda was defeated in Iraq due to its extremism and attacking the population it initially supported. These two factors resulted combined with the surge of American forces to provide seucrity for the population resulted in its loss of tacit support and therefore its unassailable base among the population. The same can be said for Sadr's militia and Special Groups. While initially providing essential services for the population, these entities quickly showed their extremism and attacked the very population which was protecting them resulting, over time, in their loss of popular or tacit support thereby losing their unassailable base leading to their downfall.

2. The capability of the Iraqi Security Forces allows it to protect the population now. Can it defend the country from external major combat operations? No, but it can protect the population from externally led insurgencies and has ties to several people who inform on militants. This fact is how they were able to diminish and almost eliminate Iranian influence in Basra, Maysan, and Sadr City.

3. The Iraqi government is providing essential services now to most Iraqis. While limited, projects are underway for better and more efficient services. Commerce is beginning to take hold in the country, not only in Baghdad, but also in smaller townships. While significant problems still exist, they are being resolved slowly but surely.

4. The recent violence is still fresh in many Iraqis minds. They do not want to return to violent extremism of 2006. Special Groups coming into communities will not be welcomed and I predict will be informed upon. Expect to see ISOF operations in the near future taking down these groups once they attempt to establish a base of operations from which to launch attacks.

5. These Special Groups may get one or more attacks off. If they do, the possible renewed violence will have many groups informing on these Special Groups further limiting their ability to carry out future attacks.

Iran needs to quit these forms of operations as it will only hurt their political and economic impact they could have within Iraq. Iran is still trying to stir up insurrection to keep the US military consumed in Iraq. However, the game has changed and Iraq is moving from a war to nation building. Iran's attempt to bring back a state of war will fail as ISF capacity is now too great to allow large scale open warfare by an insurgency. In addition, Coalition force numbers are still too great to allow this to happen.

There are many within Iraq who would favor much Iranian influence in Iraq; however, not by an insurgency or Special Groups. Iran's major influence in Iraq right now could be political. Trying to re-establish an insurgency will only hurt their political efforts.

The Hezbollah model used in Lebanon will not work in Iraq as Iraq has a robust provincial and tribal influence which makes it down to the normal Iraqi and provides for the tribe. Unlike Lebanon, reconciliation in Iraq started from the bottom up vice the top down. The only places where this model had hopes of florishing were Basra, Maysan, and Sadr City. All of these places and their inhabitants are now better off without Iranian Special Group influence and the people know it. Commerce quickly came back to Basra and Sadr City once Special Groups were contained/defeated. In additon, oil wealth is making it down to these groups already. This fact will only become more and more evident as essential services become more and more robust.

Attacks will also not work as they will only spur popular dissent against these groups.

Iran's best bet at this time is to attempt to influence the government. Unfortunately, its major power brokers in this realm is Sadr and his political members who are walking on egg shells at this time as they have lost popular support especially in Basra, Maysan, and Sadr City. Also unfortunately, Sistani, the revered spiritual leader in Iraq, is very much against a theocracy and has stayed out of polititics as the country develops its democratic ways.

Given its goal of maintaining an isurgency to keep the US tied down, Iran has no other good choice, in the near term, except to bring in Special Groups to continue or promote an bloodshed. While it may get off a spectacular attack, I predict this project will fail miserably as Iraqis are tired of war, are finally experiencing what a free, democratic society can do for them, and are quite frankly liking it.

Once this project fails, Iran will continue to train Sadr and wait for Sistani's death in the hope that they can re-introduce Sadr as an Ayatollah. However, by that time, democracy should be so ingrained in Iraq that this religious influence will be seen as an infringement of democratic rights. That is why Sistani is allowing this democracy to learn and grow without religious influence right now. He understands that while a democracy will keep the church and state separate, a strong democracy can lead to a strong conservative religious movement which can benefit from the power of the secular state.

This fact is lost on leadership of Iran which has a strong religious totalitarian state which must suppress its people to maintain control. However, it is not lost on its people who will shortly see that crossing over the border to Iraq will allow for democratic freedoms they have been lacking for almost 30 years. This fact is what Iran truly fears most. It is a fact which all totalitarian states in the region fear most, and it is why all these states allowed members from their soil enter Iraq to attempt to destroy the young democracy.

For its part, the US must maintain a strong presence in Iraq until successful handover of power from pronvincial and national elections. At that point, the democracy in Iraq will be unstoppable for Iraqis have given what is needed to allow for a successful democracy to persist and flourish. Namely, they have given their blood. The current generation will not soon forget this very gruesome fact.

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Back in Iraq, Jarred by the Calm

From the New York Times.

At first, I didn’t recognize the place.

On Karada Mariam, a street that runs over the Tigris River toward the Green Zone, the Serwan and the Zamboor, two kebab places blown up by suicide bombers in 2006, were crammed with customers. Farther up the street was Pizza Napoli, the Italian place shut down in 2006; it, too, was open for business. And I’d forgotten altogether about Abu Nashwan’s Wine Shop, boarded up when the black-suited militiamen of the Mahdi Army had threatened to kill its owners. There it was, flung open to the world.

Prosperity and commerce are coming to Iraq as Mr. Filkins points out. Iraq is not without issue, nor is that the purpose of Mr. Filkins' article. However, at this time there is peace, prosperity, and hope. While he writes that Iraqis do not know what the future will bring, Iraqis are none the less hopeful of a brighter, better future.

For a full read, click here.


Zardari vows to root out terror from Pak

From South East Asia News.

In a reaction to last night's suicide attack on a hotel in Islamabad killing around 50 persons, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari said that the country will not be deterred by the 'cowardly acts of terrorism' and that the new PPP-led alliance government will purge their country of this "cancer".

Addressing his nation on TV late on Saturday, Zardari said that he was aggrieved by the losses in the massive bomb attack and that he knew how it felt to lose a loved one.

He asked his countrymen to 'turn their grief into power'.

The terrorists would bow before Pakistan one day, he said and added that those who had carried out the attack in the holy month of Ramazan were not Muslims.

The President said that the terrorists had turned the happy moment of the restoration of democracy into that of grief, and asked all political parties to unite against terrorism.

A few hours earlier, in his maiden address of the joint session of the Pakistan Parliament, Zardari said that Pakistan was passing through a critical phase and must root out all forms of terrorism and extremism from its soil."

We must root out terrorism and extremism wherever and whenever they may rear their ugly heads," he said and added: "Let everyone have an opportunity to make an informed judgment about the risks to our beloved country and about how we should move forward with responsibility and clarity of vision."

He also said that his country won't tolerate attacks by any foreign forces on its soil, though he didn't name any country. "We will not tolerate the violation of our sovereignty and territorial integrity by any power in the name of combating terrorism," Zardari said.

The text above should make jihadists cringe. While it has been stated that jihadists were after high-level American personnel in their attack, Zardari was also supposed to be at the hotel during the attack but was not. The jihadists were undoubtedly trying to get a twofor by taking out high level foreigners (American and British) and the Pakistani President too.

Zardari's response is noteworthy in several respects.

First, he touches muslims directly by stating attacking during the holy month of Ramadan was "not muslim" and "cowardly".

Second, he goes after terrorists directly stating they are a "cancer", vowed to root them out wherever they show their "ugly heads", and noted Pakistan is going through a "critical phase and must root out terrorism".

Third, he appeals to Pakistanis by stating the terrorists have turned the "restoration of democracy [in Pakistan] into grief" and asked Pakistanis to turn this "grief into power".

Fouth, he inspired nationalism by stating he would not allow "violation of our [Pakistani] sovereignty".

Finally, he brought it to the very personal level stating "he knew how it felt to lose a loved one".

All of these tied together should definitely make jihadists cringe. This high profile attack did not endure Pakistanis to Al Qaeda nor did it accomplish its tactical objective of killing high profile foreigners or harming Zardari. It will undoubtedly make normal Pakistanis, religiously fasting during Ramadan, wonder why Al Qaeda chose to attacks during this holy time. More to the point, the attack was triggered right when the hotel was filled with Pakistanis who would be eating their evening meal after fasting.

This attack could only hurt the jihadist's brand. Yes, it will make individuals fearful, but if the Pakistani military begins an all out offensive, with quite assistance from the US, the military can use this turbulent time, in which Zardari tells Pakistanis to turn their grief into power, to root out terrorists on its soil while maintaining to the popular support of the people.

The coming days and actions by the Pakistani government will be critical. It will be interesting to see if this great blunder by jihadists will be used against them as it should. If it is, we will see the populous rise up against jihadists in Pakistan. If it is not, we continue to see tacit support of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the FATA/NWFP regions.

UPDATE: South East Asia News Net is reporting the blast may have been meant for the Pakistani Parliament, not foreign dignitaries as orginally suspected.

The terror attack on the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad was supposedly aimed at Pakistan's parliament where the entire civil and military leadership of the country had gathered to listen to the first address by President Asif Ali Zardari.

Right now, the only foreigner officially killed in the attack was the Czech ambassador to Pakistan. While a supporter of western forces in their global war on terror, the Czech republich is hardly a country with a reputation of going after jihadists.

It appears the intitial analysis is still correct. Strategically, the bombing of the Marriott hotel is huge blunder for Al Qaeda and the Taliban. They did not apparently kill foreigners they were after, they did not get Zardari, nor did they get Pakistani parliamentarians. However, they have brought their terrorist brand home in a way not seen since the assassination of Bhutto, which resulted in the PPP sweeping elections in this country. Now that the PPP is in power, its full force can be brought to bear upon Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

In addition, Pakistan will now get much needed international support to help the newly elected democratic government against Al Qaeda. The US will be able to hide its support among the various players which will now flock to Pakistan's side, especially given Zardari's recent speech above. Both President Hamid Karzai and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have expressed uninamity with Pakistan over the hotel blast.

Al Qaeda and the Taliban have given the Pakistani government a choice. Either submit to terrorism or fight it. It appears the Pakistani government will now take on these forces directly.

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