Spain’s Withdrawal From Iraq

This morning is not a happy one for me here in Spain. I had not anticipated that Spain’s new president, Jos? Luis Rodr?guez Zapatero, would take the decision about the troops that he did yesterday, and I regret his having taken it.

In fact I was furious with him, since I feel the approriate place to have announced this decision would have been in the Spanish Parliament last Thursday and Friday – during the debate on his ‘canditature’ – where there would have been the possibility of a full and free debate on the decision itself, its timing, and its implications.

Doing it via a televised ‘address to the nation’ only, I feel, reinforces the drift towards ‘backstaging’ the parliament that was already evident during the Aznar presidency.

In any event the outcome would not have been different, but I feel the respect for the democratic process, and respect for all those of us who took the trouble to listen carefully to the arguments during the two day session would have been much greater.

Maybe I form part of a tiny minority, but I can certainly say that on Friday night I went to bed feeling vaguely optimistic, that something significant might have changed for the better in Spain. It was certainly something very new to hear a Spanish president speaking so openly about Spain’s diversity and recognising the importance of respect for all the different identities here. It was very politically correct. Of course I should have known better: this was all before the vote.

Spain is, as the tourist blurb says, ‘different’, and I am not sure I will ever get accustomed to just how different it is.

So last night when I returned home from a pleasant day out to discover just what had been going on in my absence, I was, to say the least, more than a little crestfallen.

It is not simply that I think the decision is a bad one, or that I fail to recognise it as a legitimate one (I think there is no doubt that the overwhelming majority of Spanish citizens support this decision, including many who voted PP in the elections). It is the timing of the decision more than anything, and the absence of the necessity to take the decision right now which wrankles most with me.

Certainly things in Iraq look none to good. This was predictable some will say. Maybe, would be my answer, but the priority right now shouldn’t be to go over who was right and who was wrong last March – there will be plenty of time to do that later – the priority should be to try and find a way to get out of the mess.

Last week was a hard week for all those concerned about Iraq and its future. The general Middle East atmosphere seems to have taken a nosedive. The decision of George Bush to give explicit support to Sharon’s West Bank aspirations before any talks begin surely made things worse, then the inability to condemn the killing of Rantissi simply poured more oil on already troubled water.

Really the US seems to have boxed itself into a position of wanting to have its cake and eat it with its current policy of treating Israel/Palestine and Iraq as two separate, and scarcely related questions. From where I am sitting you can either openly back Sharon (which means you cannot be seen as impartial by the majority of Arab states and their citizens), or you can be the midwife of democracy in Iraq: what you cannot do is be both at the same time.

It may be totally lamentable, but the reality is that the majority of Iraq’s Sunnis and Shiites (the Khurds are a different case altogether) identify with the Palestinians, and see Sharon as their enemy. Given this, to be seen to be siding with Sharon means you are not seen as sufficiently impartial to be the guarantor of any provisional authority in Iraq. So you have to choose. I feel George Bush has already chosen.

This means the UN will now more or less inevitably have to assume the central responsibility in Iraq (something which some of us have been calling for from day one of the post-war epoch).

Which brings us back to Zapatero’s timing. Given that there exists now a real and serious possibility of a new resolution at the UN, and of a new relationship post 1 July: why this rush? There is something here I don’t understand.

If this is simply for reasons of pressure from within PSOE and the farther left IU, then I am even more preoccupied, since this would mean that what the new PP leader Mariano Rajoy is alledging, that this government will be weak and unstable, may well turn out to be true.

The real problems arise with the consequences of this decision.

Firstly despite Zappatero’s declarations that he will give a high priority to fighting terrorism, does he recognise that this implies a willingness to act outside the confines of the Spanish state? Is he simply so naive that he imagines that if you sit back and wait, no-one will ever come and do you harm. Does he really believe that the Al-Qaeda problem only exists becuase of the Iraq war? What will he do if Morroccan fundamentalists start to demand the return of Ceuta and Melilla (which by rights do not really belong to Spain, they are in fact Europe’s last colonial remnant in North Africa).

You do not have to sympathise with Gerorge Bush’s feeling that he ‘was tired of swatting flies’ to see that a more systematic approach to terrorism is required, and that you cannot resolve all problems locally.

Secondly, one has to be preoccupied about the implications of all this for the other European coalition partners. The pressure on the Italians, Bulgarians, Poles, Ukrainians etc will now only intensify. Certainly the Iraq participation is also controversial in these countries. How will the Spanish feel if there are terrorist attacks in these countries, or if their citizens are kidnapped in Iraq?

Thirdly what about constitutional responsibilty for the actions of your predecessors? Maybe PSOE didn’t agree with the war, but the Spanish state participated on behalf of all its citizens. Now Iraq is a mess. It seems to me you cannot simply walk away (and George Bush please take note) and say either it wasn’t me, or, oh well it didn’t work out. There is too much at stake here for that. Irrespective of whether Iraq was a ‘home’ for terrorists before the war, it now is one, and a bad outcome on the type of future government Iraq has would certainly mean this could become much, much worse.

Lastly, what defence is Zapatero leaving himself in the event of a future external terrorist attack on Spain? How will he persuade the Spanish people if he has a change of heart? Where will Spain look for help? These are important and difficult questions for Spain.

Yesterday was a bad day for Spain, a bad day for democracy, and a bad day for the future of Iraq and the fight against terrorism.

Who says this, me certainly, but also Aznar on Fox News:

“That will not be good for Spain, not a good day for the coalition, and a very good day for those who don’t want stability and democracy in Iraq,”

I never thought I would live to see the day I was agreeing with him about something, but there you are, this is what fair and balanced really means.

A bad decision. I only hope we will not all live to profoundly regret it.

This entry was posted in A Fistful Of Euros, Europe and the world by Edward Hugh. Bookmark the permalink.

About Edward Hugh

Edward 'the bonobo is a Catalan economist of British extraction. After being born, brought-up and educated in the United Kingdom, Edward subsequently settled in Barcelona where he has now lived for over 15 years. As a consequence Edward considers himself to be "Catalan by adoption". He has also to some extent been "adopted by Catalonia", since throughout the current economic crisis he has been a constant voice on TV, radio and in the press arguing in favor of the need for some kind of internal devaluation if Spain wants to stay inside the Euro. By inclination he is a macro economist, but his obsession with trying to understand the economic impact of demographic changes has often taken him far from home, off and away from the more tranquil and placid pastures of the dismal science, into the bracken and thicket of demography, anthropology, biology, sociology and systems theory. All of which has lead him to ask himself whether Thomas Wolfe was not in fact right when he asserted that the fact of the matter is "you can never go home again".

16 thoughts on “Spain’s Withdrawal From Iraq

  1. “Doing it via a televised ‘address to the nation’ only, I feel, reinforces the drift towards ‘backstaging’ the parliament that was already evident during the Aznar presidency.”

    In that, I fear I can detect the malign influence of the Blairites in Britain and their evident intention to graft a presidential style of government on to a parliamentary system with a constitutional monarchy.

  2. My own feeling was that having seen how affairs are detiorating in Iraq, Zapatero wishes to see Spanish troops withdrawn before (a) there is sufficient time for a UN resolution to be drafted at Spain’s request , thereby permitting Spanish troops to remain and (b) before too many body bags for which Zapatero will be held responsible will be sent back to Madrid. In other words, a rather cynical decision.

  3. A slight digression, but I wonder whether Spain’s Muslim minority will be made to feel the heat if the new government decides to get stroppy (perhaps as a counterbalance to leaving Iraq). Vigilance is one thing, and certainly called for in Spain; but scapegoating an entire community another.

    A week or so ago I read in the local paper (well; an Ibizan local paper; I don’t know whether Formentera has a paper of its own) that Ibiza’s Muslim community had been on the receiving end of a good bit of threat and intimidation, to the point that they were considering asking for police protection. Things can’t have been helped by reports that ‘El Chino’, the second-in-command of the terrorist cell that recently blew itself up, had been funding the cell in part with proceeds from the drugs trade on Ibiza (though I suspect that local Muslims will have had less to do with that than would the EasyJets full of club-goers).

    Edward, you’re on the ground there: any signs that the state will be overreaching in its policing of the Muslim population? Any signs the populace as a whole is getting ugly in its attitude to Muslims?

  4. “In other words, a rather cynical decision.”

    Well I certainly wouldn’t call it the noble one of living up to pre-election promises that Z is suggesting it is.

    “before too many body bags for which Zapatero will be held responsible will be sent back to Madrid.”

    Well I try not to get into motives too much, and I have to accept that this decision was taken before Sunday, but it was a very big coincidence that at mid-day we saw Spanish troops being fired on in Najaaf and when I arrived home in the evening I discovered there had been an unscheduled ‘news spot’ in mid afternoon with the announcement.

    I didn’t want to get into this in the post, since it is possibly simply a big coincidence.

    Another thing I didn’t touch on in the post – because I didn’t want to get a nasty blast from the ‘flame-thrower’ – was that it is noticeable that there is an underlying resentment among the Spanish soldiers interviewed towards the mode of operation of the US troops. They complain, that they are far too aggressive from their point of view (the British military seem to have been coming back to the MOD with similar points). Again the US soldiers would probably reply that the others haven’t been taking the losses they have.

    There are of course very different philosophies of conflict resolution in the US and Europe, and this must make this type of military coalition very difficult to manage. Still, I think there have to be fundamental differences between how you could justify your behaviour towards civilian members of another nation when you are at war with them, and how you treat the civilian members of a nation state when you go there uninvited in order to help. If the help you receive means you end up in a body bag, I would say that that kind of help is very difficult to justify either legally or ethically.

    What has been happening in Fallujah is extraordinarily difficult to understand. I suppose the interesting question is going to be what exactly will be the kind of issues Iraqi civilians will want to bring before a duly constituted legal authority once the transition of power has taken place.

    To be clear here: I think that Westminster was entirely right to wage a ceaseless war on IRA terrorism both in the North of Ireland and on the UK mainland. I also think that a full and thorough investigation of the events of Bloody Sunday was not only justified, but necessary.

    Maybe this is a little off the point about Spain and Zapatero, but these are things which are kinda bothering me right now, and they are points which will become important if the UN ultimately assumes a leading role.

  5. “any signs that the state will be overreaching in its policing of the Muslim population? Any signs the populace as a whole is getting ugly in its attitude to Muslims?”

    Hi, you put this up while I was posting the one before. My feeling is that these worries are largely unwarranted. One thing to remember is that Spain is – outside the area of domestic violence of husband towards wife – not an especially violent society.

    Again it is ‘different’.

    Remember you can still walk normally home alone (even women) along the streets of the major cities in the early hours of the morning without special problems.

    The UK is very different, and is much more violent than Spain. I had trouble walking home alone after 11.00 at night (which was when the busses stopped) in the Liverpool of the early 1960’s.

    So something like El Ejido is pretty exceptional.

    Given the amount of underlying history that there is between the Spanish and the Maghreb perhaps this is surprising. But then Spain is as we are seeing in many ways surprising. There is nothing to compare with the attitudes I have found among Bulgarians towards Turks, or those we have seen from serbians towards Albanians.

    Also, as I have said previously, the Spanish population is remarkably clued-in about the extent to which they need immigration to secure their pensions.

    In fact the situation is rather the reverse of the one you are describing. Hitherto (under the Aznar govt) preference had been given to illegal immigrants from eastern Europe and Latin America (this giving preference even in the case of ‘illegals’ may seem strange, but I repeat: this is Spain) to the disadvantage of Morroccans. It was even a policy not to contract Morroccan undocumented workers in the fruit harvests. This was widely known among the Morroccan community, and undoubtedly it was things like this that made it possible for the Fundamentalists to build an extensive network in Madrid.

    This policy has now been openly reversed. Also one of the main priorities of the new government will be a new strategy towards immigration, which will undoubtedly include a hefty component of ‘interculturality’.

    Also remember that the PSOE really needs to regularise the immigrants and get them voting, in an ageing society this has to be a fundamental strategy for the left to break the otherwise natural majority of the right (even, in this context, look at the US).

    So I wopuld say that while I am sure that there will be many individual cases of discrimination, and worse, and lots of examples of ‘fear of the unknown’ this is unlikely to be repeated at the level of official discourse. Obviously, of course, if there are more bombs, and these are now seen as emmanating not from Iraq, but from Morrocco, this could possibly change.

    Also once Spain’s construction driven boom comes to a halt, and there is real competition for jobs, this could also have a pretty negative influence.

  6. “(the British military seem to have been coming back to the MOD with similar points).”

    Indeed…

    “My view and the view of the British chain of command is that the Americans’ use of violence is not proportionate and is over-responsive to the threat they are facing. They don’t see the Iraqi people the way we see them. They view them as untermenschen. They are not concerned about the Iraqi loss of life in the way the British are.”

    http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2004/04/11/1081621835663.html?from=storyrhs

    “(this giving preference even in the case of ‘illegals’ may seem strange, but I repeat: this is Spain)”

    Strange? I’m not sure. I’d rather interpreted the recent immigration scandal in the UK as being largely concerned with this (though if the Spanish are as clued up about the need for immigration as you suggest then that is indeed a very interesting difference).

  7. Edward,
    I’m actually surprised at your reaction to Zappatero’s declaration.

    I think your priorities are misplaced if your fury is about where/when the announcement was made. There is a time and place for parliamentary procedures, and the eve of an ill-considered battle is not it.

    As far as the U.N. ‘having’ to take over in Iraq; don’t count on it. They’re not going to return any time soon if -what seems to be the likely outcome- the country plunges into outright war.

    Besides, Pulling out 1300 soldiers now means that there will be 1300 spanish soldiers available to return with the U.N. when it does return.

    As far as fighting terrorism goes; paying for 1300 soldiers to futilely try to keep the peace in Iraq is nothing but a waste of spanish counter-terrorism resources.

    Lastly, as to your hypothetical about a future external terrorist attach on spain…what perhaps expecting that spain would be able to lean on it’s ally the U.S.A for help ?

    What sort of help exactly would you be counting on ? Consider that the U.S. wasn’t able to successfully conclude it’s campaign in Afghanistan because vital intelligence resources were pulled from that theatre to plan for its campaign in Iraq …and is now stretched to the breaking point with the latter ?

  8. I fully agree with “From where I am sitting you can either openly back Sharon (which means you cannot be seen as impartial by the majority of Arab states and their citizens), or you can be the midwife of democracy in Iraq: what you cannot do is be both at the same time.”
    But if I combine this with
    “The decision of George Bush to give explicit support to Sharon’s West Bank aspirations before any talks begin surely made things worse, then the inability to condemn the killing of Rantissi simply poured more oil on already troubled water.”
    I do not understand why you are so furious about Zapatero.
    The change in US policy towards Israel shows that GWB completely ignores the European point of view. I am not glad with Z’s decision (and especially not of the way he presented it) but I am afraid this kind of steps are the only ones that could have some influence on the US-administration.
    It would be nice if Z was to support Paul Berman’s suggestion in Th e New York Times :”I wish the Democrats would follow Mr. Kerry’s example and take it a step further by putting together a small contingent of Democrats with international reputations, a kind of shadow government ? not to undermine American policy but to achieve what Mr. Bush seems unable to do. The Democrats ought to explain the dangers of modern totalitarianism and the goals of the war. They ought to make the call for patience and sacrifice that Mr. Bush has steadfastly avoided. And the Democratic contingent ought to go around the world making that case. and invite US-democrats to discuss the possibility of another policy.

    No mistake: I know Kerry gave full support of GWB’s chance of the US policy towards Israel but if JFK is serious about his concern for regaining allies there must be subjects to disagree and debate on..

  9. On:
    My view and the view of the British chain of command is that the Americans’ use of violence is not proportionate and is over-responsive to the threat they are facing.

    I surely am no nationalist or supporter of the current administration in the Netherlands but the Dutch record in Iraq looks good. The Dutch (with almost the same number of troops as Spain) only met with two instances of violence worth mentioning.
    One was the attack on a embassy-post – “we” received a warning before: so there were no casualties.
    The second involved a looting groop. One Iraqi was killed. The soldier pulling the trigger (shooting from a long distance) was then taken to the Netherlands to be prosecuted. Dutch marines were not happy but I think this was very good PR towards the Iraqi people.
    It was very odd to see our pm telling the Dutch troops that the decision to prosecute the man was not his, but that the Counsel for the Prosecution acted on its own. The minister of justice agreed with that point of view but other lawyers of fame did not agree on that: the counsel in the end falls under the minister.

  10. Patrick, I respect your point of view, but as is often the case, I don’t agree with it.

    “if your fury is about where/when the announcement was made”

    No, the timing of the announcement is a secondary issue, it is simply I think Z just lost all right to crticise Aznar on this score (which he had repeatedly done during his term of opposition. He also made me personally feel someone had just sold me a ‘pup’, since I did take the trouble to watch a significant part of the parliamentary debate. It will be a long time before I accept anything he says at face value again). Incidentally he did change position between Friday and Sunday. I have now discovered that midnight Thursday (I was sleeping) he did state explicitly to the IU representative that the policy still was that, “if by 1st July bla bla bla…..”

    Actually I feel there is a certain level of Spanish insularity and incompetence here. This piece is fairly accurate:

    http://news.google.com/url?ntc=0M0A0&q=http://www.upi.com/view.cfm%3FStoryID%3D20040419-050857-3164r

    and contains this little gem:

    “According to the Madrid newspaper El Pais, Zapatero speeded up his decision after his new Defense Minister Jose Bono returned from an unpublicized day trip to Washington a fortnight ago with a gloomy report on the prospects of the United Nations stepping in by the summer.”

    I personally think Bono has a lot of the responsibility for this decision, by giving a very misleading version of what the Washington dynamic actually is. This is not surprising, Bono is a mediocre, flag waving Spanish patriot of the PSOE ‘old guard’. He is a ‘machine man’ (and intensely disliked for eg here in Catalonia).

    Now much was made at the time of the 11 March bombing about the fact that the Spanish were kept uninformed about what everyone else knew. I was furious on this occassion too due to the way this was cynically used, since the case is the SPANISH ARE NORMALLY KEPT SYSTEMATICALLY IGNORANT of what everyone else knows.

    No-one in Spain seems to have been informed that Bono went to Washington, or concerning the nature of his visit. What was this? A piece of deep espionage. I new all about it since it was in the international press.

    Then we are told that Bono comes back with a ‘gloomy report’: he was seeing what he wanted to see (I don’t imagine he speaks English) and was way out of his depth.

    Sitting back here in Barcelona I am comfortably studying the Washington situation, and I don’t see what either Bono or you (I’m afraid) see.

    I see that the US is in a dead end. For the reasons I stated this cannot continue like this. I think Fallujah marks a turning point. It is, to my way of thinking, pretty significant that the US have felt the need to negotiate a truce and then reached an apparent agreement.

    All eyes must now be on the deteriorating situation in the south. The issue that seems to me important is not only the confrontation between Al Sadr and the US administration, but between Al Sadr and Sistani. The point is that even if Sistani wins this, if you read his declarations, he will want the US troops to leave as soon as there is a civil administration in place. I hope he won’t see his wish fulfilled.

    But the only way it won’t be is by the US forces being incorporated in a larger force (maybe under Nato?) with a mandate from the UN, which will be asked for explicitly by the new Iraq administration. That is my reading of where things are now.

    “They’re not going to return any time soon if -what seems to be the likely outcome- the country plunges into outright war.”

    This Patrick is my fear. What we could see in the south is not ethnic genocide, but a cultural one, Iran style, with the liquidation of an entire intellectual class if Al Sadr comes out on top.

    None of us would be free of the consequences of this, which is why I feel we should do our utmost to try to prevent the type of tragic civil war that you (appear to be?) are resigned to accept.

    In this context I don’t think the rights and wrongs of last years war are now the issue. The issue is to try and avoid the abyss.

    “to futilely try to keep the peace in Iraq is nothing but a waste of spanish counter-terrorism resources”

    How can you say this Patrick. This is at best last year’s argument. It may well have been the case that Iraq wasn’t a major source of terrorist activity (although, please don’t let Sadam get off scott free on this one), but it certainly is now.

    If the ‘wrong guys’ win out in Iraq now we’ll all be hearing about it. I don’t want to speculate now on the local geo-political implications of this but they would seem to me to be important.

    In the end we in Europe may have more to lose here than the US itself, due to our geographic proximity. And Spain more than most, since in this context (and in the context of its history), it is the gateway to Europe. So I would say that Iraq ought to be Spain’s No1 security priority.

    “means that there will be 1300 spanish soldiers available to return with the U.N. when it does return”

    This strikes me as difficult Patrick. It is one thing uniting the Spanish population behind the rush to get out, it would be another matter altogether uniting them to go in again.

    Interestingly, in the UP article I cite they state that 90% of the Spain’s citizens opposed the Iraq war, while only 70% favour the withdrawal of the troops. I don’t know if you should put any great confidence in such numbers, but if you could it would at least imply that 20% of the population at least (90 – 70) are able to reach to some extent their own conclusions.

    This is the only vaguely optimistic point I can extract here.

  11. “I do not understand why you are so furious about Zapatero.

    The change in US policy towards Israel shows that GWB completely ignores the European point of view. I am not glad with Z’s decision (and especially not of the way he presented it) but I am afraid this kind of steps are the only ones that could have some influence on the US-administration.”

    Obviously I agree about GWB ignoring Europe, but I don’t think we should make our policy on the basis of whether or not he snubs us.

    As I said, this decision by Bush (following many others of its kind) effectively disauthorises the US as an impartial intermediary in Iraq in the eyes of the vast majority of Iraqi citizens.

    It is now Sistani and others drawing their own logical conclusion from this that are the main source of pressure on US policy. We here in Europe are totally ineffective (even Blair it seems). I don’t think Z’s action will influence Bush especially. But it might – if Al Qaeda knows how to apply the tourniquet – influence events in Italy, Bulgaria etc. This could lead to a collapse in the coalition, and yes, a change in Bush policy.

    But if the changes come this way Frans, I fear there will be little to celebrate. It is not only the ends which are important, but also the means by which they are achieved.

  12. Frans:

    “I surely am no nationalist or supporter of the current administration in the Netherlands but the Dutch record in Iraq looks good.”

    Yes, the British record looks increasingly positive to me too, having used diplomacy to keep things calm under the present circumstances rather than force. I had initially thought that the British simply had an easier region to manage (true to some extent), but given that the area is largely Shi-ite I’ve recently wondered if I hadn’t done them an injustice.

  13. “The general Middle East atmosphere seems to have taken a nosedive. The decision of George Bush to give explicit support to Sharon’s West Bank aspirations before any talks begin surely made things worse, then the inability to condemn the killing of Rantissi simply poured more oil on already troubled water.”

    I noted on one blog a new name for the Palestinians: The People Who Never Miss an Opportunity to Miss an Opportunity. UN resolutions, Camp David peacetalks, ceasefires; all have resulted in – nothing. Every opportunity degenerates into a string of suicide bombings and subsequent reprisals. And then it’s back to the negotiating table.

    European idealism of a fair and equitable solution for all has perpetuated the violence by maintaining the status quo. And now GWB has broken the stalemate by supporting one side. It’s not going to be fair for the Palestinians, but the alternative is continued false hope that the UN can force Israel to cave into all their demands. And while the toothless UN postures and condemns, the Israelis will continue to kill those that send other people’s children to be their poor man’s cruise missiles.

    The Middle East crisis has come to a peak – not a blip or a spike. Europeans are running out of fences to ride and will eventually have to support terrorists or those that fight them. Apparently Spain didn’t catch the clue when they caught their 11-March bombers lighting the fuze for a post-election attack.

  14. Edward,
    Yes, I do see civil war in Iraq as being inevitable; I saw it as inevitable even without the invasion (because I did not see Saddam’s heirs as having the ability to control the country once Saddam was gone). And in the year since the invasion, our incompetence has made things worse.

    To wit, “When the fighting is over in Fallujah, I will sell everything I have, even my home,” said a resistance fighter who gave his name as Abu Taif Mashhadani. He wept as he recalled his 8-year-old daughter, who he said was killed by a U.S. sniper in Fallujah a week ago. “I will send my brothers north to kill the Kurds, and I will go to America and target the civilians. Only the civilians. Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. And the one who started it will be the one to be blamed.”

    If you want to put 1300 spanish soldiers between this man and Americans such as myself, don’t let me stop you. But I think it would be a futile waste of spanish blood.

  15. “why this rush? There is something here I don’t understand.”

    I think it crystal clear that he didn’t want to risk being held to his word that Spanish troops could remain under UN authority. The rush was due to the fact that there is some small chance that there might be a UN resolution which would implicate that promise.

    And in my most cynical mood I would note that Osama Bin Laden has made an explicit offer with an explicit time window for acceptance.

  16. Spain just let the terrorists win their agenda. If you don’t face the fear, the fear will conquer you and believe me it will come back and strike harder if you don’t do something about it.

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