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Mideast Mirror: US & Britain escalate their undeclared war on Iraq

In-depth article on how the Arabic world perceives the implications of
the "undeclared war". From the London-based Mideast Mirror, a daily
digest of news and commentary from the Arabic world
( This article thanks to a US-based
discussion list.

Mideast Mirror - Tuesday 2 March 1999

As airstrikes intensify and oil installations are targeted, Arab
commentators fear the buildup is underway for a major offensive aimed at
toppling the regime in Baghdad, even if that means dismembering Iraq and
plunging it into civil war. Intensified airstrikes by U.S. warplanes
over northern Iraq-which have reportedly disabled the country's main
trans-Turkey oil export pipeline-prompt warnings in Tuesday's Arab press
that Washington is steadily escalating an undeclared war aimed at
weakening Iraq's defenses and further crippling its economy that could
culminate in a major military offensive aimed at bringing down President
Saddam Hussein's regime. American aircraft are reported to have fired
some 30 missiles at various targets in northern Iraq on Monday alone, a
day after bombing a repeater station on the pipeline some 40 km
southwest of Mosul, killing a watchman
and stopping the flow of oil. Baghdad said U.S.  jets launched fresh
raids later on Monday against other parts of the pipeline control
system, as well as the Ain Zala oil complex in Mosul.

Washington has denied intentionally attacking the pipeline, while
acknowledging that it might have been inadvertently bombed by its pilots
while targeting Iraqi air defense sites and "command and control and
communications centres." Defense Secretary William Cohen reiterated that
American pilots had been given "greater flexibility to attack those
systems that place them in jeopardy" while operating over northern Iraq.
But the Iraqi oil ministry said the oil facility attacked on Sunday was
not located near any military installations, and said that "proves the
falsehood of [Washington's] claims of confining raids to military
targets." It also noted that the pipeline had been the main outlet for
Iraqi crude exported under the UN's oil-for-food program, without which
proposals to raise the amount of oil Baghdad is allowed to sell under
the scheme would amount to nothing.

Earlier Baghdad accused the U.S. and Britain of trying to cripple its
battered oil industry in other ways.
In an interview with al-Hayat published on Saturday, Oil Minister Amir
Rashid charged that the U.S. and Britain were deliberately holding up
approval by the UN sanctions committee of 140 contracts for the supply
of equipment needed to repair Iraq's oil production facilities.  He also
said that during Operation Desert Storm last December, U.S.  and British
warplanes bombed the oil refinery at Basra in the south and a number of
pumping stations on the pipeline linking in northern and southern
Iraq-thus making it impossible to export crude produced in northern Iraq
via the Gulf, or crude produced in the south via Turkey. Tuesday's Arab
papers report that Sunday's U.S. airstrike effectively cut Iraq's oil
export capacity by half, and quote Iraqi officials as saying the damage
is expected to take four weeks to repair fully but could be partially
mended sooner.

ATTRITION: Pan-Arab Al-Quds al-Arabi sees the escalation of U.S. and
British airstrikes against northern and southern Iraq as a virtual
repeat of Operation Desert Storm, albeit a slow-motion one so as to
deflect media attention and avoid an Arab public backlash like that
which followed last
December's blitz. It notes that while Cohen-who on Friday begins a tour
of the Gulf states, Egypt, Jordan and Israel to discuss Iraq and
regional security -- acknowledged that U.S. pilots may have
inadvertently destroyed sections of the Iraq-Turkey oil pipeline, he
expressed not the slightest regret. On the contrary, he intimated that
such attacks would continue. "The astonishing thing about the matter is
that the world has grown accustomed to news of skirmishes over the
no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq, and equally accustomed to
news of Iraqi civilians being killed and injured by airstrikes-as though
the victims are not human beings, and as if the United States of America
has the right to kill them and to destroy Iraqi air defenses whenever it
pleases," the paper says. "Everyone seems to forget, including the Arab
states who are supposed to be Iraq's brethren, that these no-fly zones
in which the battles occur are Iraqi-not American-territory, and that
they were established by unilateral American fiat without any resolution
from the UN Security Council."

The Arab governments are well aware of that, and are equally aware of
the motives behind Washington's escalation. "But they look the other
way, that is if they don't participate directly or indirectly in these
attacks." It is no secret that the U.S. and British warplanes that
enforce the no-fly
zones operate out of bases in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and use the two
countries' air space in all their sorties.  "Iraq is being targeted by a
war of attrition that it is developing into a second Desert Fox, albeit
in a gradual manner as part of Washington's considered plan for bringing
about the anticipated American change in Iraq," al-Quds al-Arabi writes.
The U.S., having passed the Iraqi Liberation Act and earmarked money for
Iraqi opposition groups, has appreciated that the regime in Baghdad is
strong and firmly in control, and cannot be overthrown by means of an
intense one-off air attack. So it has resorted to this war of attrition.

It would not be a surprise to learn that certain Arab regimes who are
complicit in Washington's plans in Iraq advised it to adopt such an
approach in order to avoid provoking an Arab public backlash. Those
regimes did their part by initiating propaganda wars against Baghdad in
an effort to pre-empt any reaction among their citizens in solidarity
with Iraq. "This war which is bleeding Iraq without any legal
justification must stop, in order to preserve what remains of this Arab
country and its people's
dignity," al-Quds al-Arabi says. "If some Arab regimes are colluding in
America's plans, either through direct participation or silence, the
Arab public needs to protest and expose their objectives if we are to
avoid an Arab disaster which makes the Palestine catastrophe pale in

IMMINENT DANGER: Egyptian columnist Assayed Zahra sees Washington's
behavior as vindication of his contention (see below) that the U.S. is
not only intent on carving Iraq up along ethnic and sectarian lines and
triggering a civil war there in its quest to depose Saddam, but that it
begun translating its plans in that regard into practice.  And it is
doing so with the utmost contempt and cold-bloodedness, he writes
Tuesday in the Bahraini daily Akhbar al-Khaleej.  He points to an
interview carried by the Turkish daily Milliyet on Monday with the U.S.
diplomat in charge of "transition" in Iraq, Frank Ricciardone, "the man
appointed as trustee of the affairs of the mercenary groups labelled as
the Iraqi opposition and to take charge of the plan to topple the Iraqi
regime." When asked by the Turkish paper if the U.S. plan wouldn't lead
to the partition of Iraq and civil war there, Ricciardone didn't rule
that out entirely, says Zahra. He went on to remark that Iraq could
hardly be considered a unified country today, given the no-fly zones
over the north and south, and that he hadn't met an Iraqi Kurd who wants
a united Iraq in future.

In other words, the U.S. official declared frankly that the division
which the U.S. itself imposed on Iraq by force through the no-fly zones
is set to be a permanent state of affairs, says Zahra.  And he intimated
that Iraq has no future as a united country in Washington's mind and its
schemes. And with the utmost arrogance, Ricciardone went on to say that
carrying out a plan that might lead to the dismemberment of Iraq and
trigger a civil war was "better than doing nothing." "In other words,
because America cannot think of anything else to do to achieve its
objective of overthrowing the Iraqi regime, it has no qualms at all
about destroying an entire country, dispossessing an entire people, and
putting the fate of the entire region on the road to perdition." The
danger is real and imminent, warns Zahra, so much so that there is no
more time for the Arab countries to waste before acting quickly and
actively to avert it.

SAUDI: The Saudi daily Asharq al-Awsat and other Saudi-owned papers
highlight another remark Ricciardone made in his Milliyet
interview-namely, that Saddam Hussein is most likely to be deposed
suddenly by means of a military coup. Asharq al-Awsat devotes its
front-page headline to the news that "Washington expects surprise coup
in Iraq," and also stresses that Ricciardone said he thought the chances
of Iraq breaking up as a country after the overthrow of the regime were
minimal.  The Saudi paper quotes U.S. officials in Washington as saying
that Ricciardone did not mean to intimate that the Clinton
administration "insists on the military coup option alone," but if a
coup did take place, resulting in the overthrow of the Iraqi president,
it would be pleased. The official said that U.S. strategy toward Iraq
since December has been aimed at "weakening and isolating Saddam Hussein
and his regime by bombing his air defenses, military communications
systems, elite forces which he
relies on to stay in power, military air bases and research centers,
missile repair facilities, and other props that help him remain in
power." The paper notes that broadcasting and communications facilities
were among the targets struck by U.S. warplanes in northern Iraq on

DISMEMBERMENT: Assayed Zahra argues in a two-part article published in
Akhbar al-Khaleej on Sunday and Monday that if Washington is allowed to
get its way in Iraq that will lead to bloody civil war and the
irreversible break-up of the country-putting the neighboring Gulf states
at grave risk
of going the same way. One could maintain that the idea of dismembering
Iraq in order to force a
change of regime in Baghdad is just one of many being considered by the
U.S. administration, he says.  But on reflection, it transpires that in
practice this scenario is the only one available to Washington, which
has stopped looking for alternative options for dealing with Iraq. The
goal of
bringing down the regime has become the sole declared objective of the
U.S. administration's Iraq policy. It has committed itself to it, and no
longer has any other policy aims in Iraq.

But it cannot bring down the regime by merely maintaining sanctions
accompanied by occasional military strikes like last December's
aggression. It has tried that for years without either weakening the
regime or provoking a revolt against it. All that policy earned it was
mounting Arab public anger and growing international opposition to
sanctions and military action.

Nor does it realistically think it can arrange President Saddam
Hussein's assassination. Such an operation would be more likely to
result in the killing of the hit-squad sent to do the deed, as well as
causing an international scandal. Even if it were to succeed in
eliminating the Iraqi leader, there's no guarantee that it would be able
to control subsequent developments in Iraq.  Deposing the regime by
mounting a land-based U.S. invasion of Iraq is a non-starter, as that
would put the lives of large numbers of U.S.  troops at risk, and
Washington wouldn't be prepared to court domestic opposition or pay the
enormous political costs of such a campaign.  The fourth option is to
help the Iraqi opposition depose the regime, but Washington knows full
well that the Iraqi opposition factions it has taken under its wing have
little or no weight inside Iraq, and are little more than groups of
mercenaries incapable even of mounting organized opposition to the
regime let alone bringing it down.  Thus by a process of elimination,
the U.S. is left with just one scenario for changing theleadership in
Baghdad-that of separating the south from the rest of the country and
turning it into a sectarian mini-state.

SCENARIO: From various moves and statements made by U.S. officials one
can conclude that administration is planning to take the following
practical steps, while creating a propaganda climate conducive to their
success: ... First, to persuade Iraq's neighbors to establish bases for
Iraqi opposition forces from  which they can launch cross-border
attacks. ... Simultaneously, to intensify air strikes over the northern
and southern no-fly zones in order to gradually inflict the maximum
damage on any facilities that could be used by the Iraqi army in those
areas. ... Once that is completed, to launch airstrikes of unprecedented
intensity against northern and southern Iraq, particularly the south,
with the aim of bringing an end to all central government authority over
the two areas and cutting all communications between them and Baghdad.
Presumably, that is to be followed by the entry of Iraqi opposition
forces-a 10,000-man force has been mentioned-into Iraq under U.S. air
cover, as well as some opposition political figureheads currently based
overseas. ... Then, a government is declared in the "liberated south"
and another in the north, which Washington hastens to recognize. ... The
north and south are subsequently relieved of sanctions, and their
"governments" are granted Iraq's frozen overseas assets and control over
the oilfields and other revenue sources in the two zones. ... The
opposition forces-or "liberation army" as some U.S.  documents already
refer to them-then presumably stage attacks against government forces
and sabotage operations and attract army units to defect to their side
until, Washington hopes, the regime in Baghdad collapses.

IMPLEMENTATION: "Regardless whether such a scenario can succeed or not,
the one direct outcome would be the de facto partition of Iraq into at
least three mini-states-a Kurdish one in the north, a Shiite one in the
south, and a Sunnite one in the middle," says Zahra.  And developments
in the region since the latest Anglo-American aggression suggest this
scenario is actually in the process of being implemented, in other words
that the U.S. has already embarked on its bid to dismember Iraq.
For one thing, it must be appreciated that Operation Desert Fox,
whatever its declared justifications, was launched to achieve one
specific objective in particular: to bring a complete end to UNSCOM's
mission in Iraq and the entire UN role in the country.  To make doubly
sure that would happen, the military offensive was followed by
Washington's leaking of information about how UNSCOM had been used to
spy on Iraq. Washington deliberately set out to end the role of UNSCOM
and the UN so
that dealing with Iraq would henceforth be its own private business, in
other words to block the development of any international policy for
dealing with Iraq and enabling it to concentrate on trying to depose the
regime in the manner it deems fit.  In pursuit of that objective, it
proceeded to pass the Iraq Liberation Act, designate Iraqi opposition
groups eligible for its aid. and appoint an official charged with
supervising those groups.  But the greatest evidence that the
dismemberment scenario has begun being implemented is that since the
December blitz, American and British warplanes have been bombing Iraqi
air defenses in the north and south almost every day. The aim is both to
gradually destroy Iraq's defensive capabilities and try to establish the
"principle" that such attacks are a routine matter, thus getting public
opinion accustomed to them ahead of stage two of the plan-namely, the
anticipated all-out assault on the north and south.  In recent weeks,
there has also been a proliferation of American reports talking of
things like mass executions in southern Iraq. The timing seems designed
to set the stage for future talk of the need to "liberate" the south in
order to free it from the regime's oppression.  The Turkish press has
meanwhile spoken of a U.S. offer to Turkey to "administer" northern
Iraq, in an apparent bid to overcome Ankara's long-standing opposition
to the establishment of a Kurdish state there.

Add to that the many tours of Gulf and other Arab states that have been
made by various U.S. officials in recent weeks in an attempt to persuade
them to subscribe to Washington's plans for Iraq. Although none of them
have given details of what their American visitors proposed to them, two
things were notable. First, immediately after the latest Gulf tour by
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Martin Indyk, a number of Arab states
whose official media had been furiously attacking the Iraqi regime and
talking of the need for it to be toppled ordered a complete halt to such
calls, or at least toned them down. The only explanation for that is
that they considered Washington's
plans to be too risky and reckless. Secondly, those countries began
repeatedly insisting in public on their opposition to the dismemberment
of Iraq. Most striking was the way the defense minister of the United
Arab Emirates (UAE) warned, after his talks with Indyk, that
Washington's plans for bringing down the Iraqi regime would dismember
the country and plunge it into civil war.

That then, is what Washington seems to be planning and it has taken the
first steps down that road. We will know that it considers time is ripe
for stage two when we start hearing U.S. officials mouthing rhetoric
about "freeing of the south," "liberated areas," "safe havens, "the Iraq
liberation army," and the "government of Free Iraq."

ARABS: But the success or failure of Washington's plans depends to a
great extent on how the Arab states react. What the Americans want from
them is first of all their agreement in principle to the idea that the
U.S. has the "right" to depose the regime in Iraq, followed by a green
light to go ahead with its plans.  The U.S. also wants specific Arab
countries to participate actively.  For example, it has
asked Egypt and Saudi Arabia to receive exiled Iraqi opposition leaders
in an attempt to bestow legitimacy on them in the Arab world and erase
the image everyone has of them as mere stooges of the United States. It
has also asked Iraq's neighbors to establish training camps for Iraqi
opposition forces on their soil, which would later be used for staging
cross-border incursions. And naturally, Washington is bound to ask some
Arab countries to help pay the bill for the entire operation.

Yet the U.S. administration knows that the Arab states oppose the
partition of Iraq or intervention in its internal affairs, so how has it
been trying to persuade them to go along with its plans? The evidence
indicates it has been using four main arguments:
(1)     That the U.S. is not proposing to depose the Iraqi regime or
install a new one in power from outside the country, but merely to
"assist" the Iraqi people in doing that themselves from within. This is
said in the expectation that, if things go to plan, the opposition
forces that topple the regime will be operating from inside the country.
Hence Indyk's remark that he agrees with the Gulf states that change
from Iraq must come from within.
(2)     That it's wrong to think that survival of the current Iraqi
regime means keeping Iraq in one piece as a country. Indyk said in
Kuwait that the claim that Saddam's regime was the sole guarantor of
Iraq's unity was just an unacceptable pretext for keeping it in power.
(3)     That what the U.S. is planning does not entail the permanent
partition of Iraq, but merely its temporary dismemberment in order to
bring down the present leadership, whose successors will be committed to
reuniting the country.
(4)     That deposing Saddam is the only way of ending the Iraq crisis
once and for all after all other options failed.

CIVIL WAR: In reality, says Zahra, these are deliberately misleading
arguments by which the U.S. hopes to persuade its Arab allies to endorse
its plans which if implemented would be catastrophic not just for Iraq
but the entire Arab world. Even accepting the premise that Washington is
entitled to try to bring about a change of regime in Iraq would set a
dangerous precedent. Its declared justifications for seeking to depose
the leadership in Baghdad-that it is undemocratic, repressive, threatens
its neighbors etc. - - could be invoked against virtually any other Arab
regime. And if the U.S. scenario sees the light, the outbreak of a
bloody civil war in Iraq would not be a mere possibility but an actual

For the scenario is all about triggering civil war by encouraging
various religious and ethnic groups to take up arms with the promise of
being granted "independent" fiefdoms.  And like every civil war, such a
conflict would take on a momentum of its own, making the combatants
vulnerable to
exploitation and encouragement by outside players that were not in on
the game from the outset. In other words, once a civil war breaks out,
containing it, let alone ending it, would be of the utmost difficulty.
And though the U.S. may argue to the Arabs that the resultant partition
of Iraq would be an interim measure, it knows better than anyone else
that the dismemberment of the country would probably prove irreversible.
"The reason is simple and obvious. Once a sect or minority or any kind
of group seizes power, forms a government, and controls financial
resources, an armed force and an independent entity... it would be most
unlikely to abandon all that-even at the cost of a bloodbath," says
Zahra. "And it goes without saying that if Iraq were actually
dismembered the risk of other Arab countries fragmenting would become
serious," he warns. It is an open secret that fragmentation of the Arab
world and redrawal of its political maps, especially in the Gulf region,
has for decades been an Israeli strategic objective, which at times
emerges in public debate in the United States itself. And it is no
secret that Israel and Jewish pressure groups in the U.S. have been at
the forefront of those pressing the U.S. administration to press ahead
with plans to partition Iraq. 

Thus allowing the U.S. to carve up Iraq would be tantamount to giving
the green light to the Balkanization of the entire Arab world.  If
sectarian mini-states are established in Iraq, that would obviously
intensify sectarian strife throughout the region, particularly in the
Gulf states. "And is there any need to remind everyone that many Arab
states already suffer from sectarian problems which they have tried to
contain by every means available?"

Moreover, if the U.S. gets its way in Iraq that will ensure that the
country becomes "fertile ground for nurturing new generations of Arab
extremists," Zahra adds. The Arab states are currently paying a high
price for having heeded U.S. calls to join the jihad in Afghanistan and
sent waves of young Arab volunteers there to train under CIA
supervision, who have since returned to plunge several of their
homelands into whirlpools of violence, extremism and terrorism.  "That
is exactly what will happen again if the Arab states allow the U.S. to
implement the scenario it is planning in Iraq," says Zahra. "What else
could we expect to emerge from a battlefield in which sects, CIA agents
and everyone else are fighting it out? What could we expect it to
nurture other than a generation of extremists, sectarians and even
mercenaries? If that happens, the Arab states will have to brace for
their arrival on their soil to lead acts of violence, extremism and
terror. They will arrive well-trained, well-connected to American and
Israeli intelligence, and ready to carry out instructions."

Thus from every perspective, what the U.S. is planning for Iraq is a
catastrophe not just for that country but for the Arabs in general, says
Zahra. "Implementation of that scenario would entail not just the
dismemberment of Iraq, but the decapitation of all the Arabs."

WHAT'S TO BE DONE: To avert that threatened catastrophe, the Arabs
states have first of all to categorically reject Washington's plans
firmly and decisively, as well as the principle of U.S. intervention to
depose the leadership of Iraq or meddle in its affairs.  Most Arab
states, including
Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain, have clearly announced their rejection of
both the principle of U.S. intervention in Iraq and any proposals that
would lead to the partition of the country. "But it remains for all the
Arab states without exception to declare such a stand in an audible and
unequivocal manner." But rejection in principle is not enough. The Arab
states must refuse to have anything to do in practice with the U.S.
plans or promote them in any way.

For example, they must avoid receiving the so-called Iraqi "opposition
leaders" the U.S. is sponsoring or bestowing any kind of legitimacy on
them; refuse to allow the establishment of training camps for Iraqi
opposition groups or lend any assistance in that regard; and refuse to
provide any funding or political and media backing to Washington's
schemes. And as the no-fly zones set up by the U.S. and Britain over
northern and southern Iraq in defiance of international law are central
to their plans for dividing Iraq into sectarian mini-states, it is
imperative for the Arab states to do everything they can to get them
dismantled. For example, they could go to the UN Security Council with a
request to issue a resolution declaring the no-fly zones illegal. The
U.S.  would veto such a resolution, but at least the Arabs would have
turned the illegality of its behavior into a global political and media

No less important is for the Arab states to withdraw immediately any
practical support for the no-fly zones. Some Arab countries foot a large
part of the bill for policing them, and that must cease forthwith. But
that would still be insufficient. Seeing as the U.S. argues that its
scheme is the only way of ending the Iraq crisis and the threat Baghdad
poses to its neighbors, why don't the Arab states take the initiative
toward ending the crisis themselves by adopting the proposals UAE
Sheikh Zayed bin-Sultan Al Nahayan has repeatedly made: i.e. launching a
real, practical and serious initiative aimed at bringing Iraq back into
the Arab fold.  The precondition for the success of such an initiative
is for the Arab states immediately to start a large-scale and serious
campaign to get sanctions against Iraq lifted, says Zahra. Those
sanctions have by any gauge become a crime against a defenseless people,
and it is not acceptable for the Arab states to continue supporting them
or committing themselves to enforcing them.

Such an anti-sanctions stance would in itself do a lot to promote a
reconciliation with Iraq, to which the Arab countries could attach
whatever terms and conditions they want, provided their aim is sincerely
to rehabilitate Iraq in the Arab world before it is too late. "In
general, the important thing is for the Arab states to realize that Iraq
in its entirety will be threatened with perdition and we will all be
threatened with perdition along with it if the U.S.  succeeds in getting
its way," says Zahra. "The Arab states are therefore called upon to act,
as quickly as they can and with all the resources at their disposal, to
block the road to the implementation of this catastrophic scenario."

BAGHDAD: But while it is incumbent on the Arabs to act, it goes without
saying that Baghdad too must shoulder its responsibility and raise its
discourse and policies to the level of the threat facing it, says Zahra.
Washington's chances of success may depend on what the Arab states do,
but Iraq must help them and give them the opportunity to perform that
role. Above all else, Baghdad must put an end, once and for all, to its
blustery rhetoric and reckless statements. It is neither acceptable nor
reasonable for Iraq to hint from time to time that it might withdraw its
recognition of its border with Kuwait.  This is a chapter Iraq must
close for good, affirming that to Kuwait and the rest of the Arab world
by whatever means it can.  Neither is it acceptable nor reasonable for
Iraqi officials and newspapers to mouth threats against the ruling
regimes in the Gulf or call on their subjects to overthrow them.

Such statements have a destructive effect. They provoke all the Arab
states without exception and encourage no one to support Iraq strongly
or stand up to the United  States. And they serve in practice to furnish
a pretext for the U.S. to press ahead with its plans. when they are
portrayed as proof that Iraq poses a threat to the region which must be
ended by all means. Thus however much Iraq may feel letdown by the Arab
states, or angered by their policies, hostile rhetoric against Arab
governments must be completely eliminated from Iraq's political and
media discourse.  And Iraq ought to do everything it can to demonstrate
that it is serious about turning the leaf on the invasion of Kuwait and
seeking an inter-Arab reconciliation. "Iraq has to appreciate that the
disaster we're all in today began the day that it proceeded to invade
Kuwait. Accordingly, Baghdad has to respond to
the Arab states' terms for reconciliation even if it has reservations
about some of them and sees others as unjustified. If an apology to
Kuwait, for example, could remove a major obstacle to its return to the
Arab fold, it should apologize to Kuwait," says Zahra.  "We say this
because the threat which will face Iraq and all of us in the Arab
homeland, if the U.S. manages to get its way, is so grave and appalling
that it requires the Iraqi leadership in particular to demonstrate the
utmost sense of
responsibility, and to behave accordingly," he writes.

"This is the moment of truth for all the Arab states. They must wake up.
Arab leaders are dutybound, before  God, before history and before their
peoples, to act immediately to foil the American scheme... that is
threatening Iraq's  perdition and ours."

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