SEC. RUMSFELD: Good afternoon, folks. Tomorrow will mark the sixth anniversary of a terrorist attack that killed 17 U.S. sailors aboard the USS Cole. That attack, which was really less than a year before the September 11th, 2001 attacks, it was a fresh demonstration to the world of the dangers that are posed by violent extremists. Those dangers would be amplified geometrically should terrorists be able to obtain weapons of mass destruction.
In recent days, the world's been concerned as North Korea announced a test of its nuclear capability, having previously announced that they had nuclear weapons. And we've also seen Iran continue with its nuclear program over the objections of much of the international community. Seeing Iran and North Korea on a path towards nuclear weapons brings up several issues of concern.
First, those nations are known proliferators.
They've proliferated to other nation-states as well as to non-nation entities. We recently saw an example of the latter in the case of Iran supplying Hezbollah.
Second, their programs point to increasing risks of lethal weapons possibly ending up in the hands of non-state entities, folks that, unlike a nation, tend not to be deterred the way a nation-state would because they don't have to worry about protecting real estate, population and leadership.
Another concern is that as a result of these trends, it's possible at least that some other nations in the world might decide that they can no longer avoid developing their own nuclear weapons. If this trend continues, there would be an increase in the number of countries with nuclear weapons, not just Iran and Korea, but possibly others. The nuclear threshold as a result would be lower in the years ahead.
Now, none of those outcomes are in the interests of the international community. I mention that because obviously it points out the critical importance of cooperation among the international community. The task is to marshal sufficient leverage so that Iran and North Korea and other countries can be dissuaded from their current course.
Clearly, it's a problem that no one country is able to deal with alone. Like counternarcotics, proliferation -- it requires the cooperation of a great many countries, and this, of course, is the path that President Bush is on. It's the right course, and the task is to marshal that support from the international community.
That said, I'm very pleased to have General George Casey standing here beside me, the commanding general of the multinational force in Iraq. General Casey and I met with President Bush this morning and talked a good deal about Iraq.
George, welcome to the Pentagon Briefing Room. I know that this is always your first choice, to have an opportunity to meet with this distinguished group, and I want to say, as I've said to you so many times personally, how much we appreciate your very able leadership and the contributions you make to a safer world. We value and appreciate your service.
GEN. CASEY: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Good afternoon, everybody.
It's been about three and a half months, I think, since I've been back here, and I just wanted to give you an update of where I see us in the mission here and then take your questions.
I think it's no surprise to anyone that the situation in Iraq remains difficult and complex.
What makes for that difficulty, complexity, a couple of things. One, since the elections in December and, more particularly, since the bombing of the Samarra mosque last February, we have seen the nature of the conflict evolving from an insurgency focused against us to a struggle for the division of political and economic power among the Iraqis.
Secondly, there are several groups that are working to affect that process negatively. The first, the Sunni extremists, al Qaeda, and the Iraqis that are supporting them. Second, the Shi'a extremists, the death squads and the more militant militias. In my view, those represent the greatest current threats in Iraq. The third group is the resistance, the Sunni insurgency that sees themselves as an honorable resistance against foreign occupation in Iraq. And lastly, the external actors -- Iran and Syria. And both Iran and Syria continue to be decidedly unhelpful by providing support to the different extremists and terrorist groups operating inside Iraq.
If you add the intensities of Ramadan and the fact that the new government is just standing up, this makes for a difficult situation, and it's likely to remain that way for some time.
That said, violence and progress coexist in Iraq, and we shouldn't be distracted from the positive things that are going on there amidst all the violence. I'll remind you that 90 percent of the violence takes place in five provinces, and those five provinces represent a little less than half of the population. And that said, while we're -- we and the Iraqi government are not comfortable with the levels of sectarian violence in the center of the country, we continue to move forward together there and around the rest of the country.
Let me make a couple of points.
First of all, the new government has been in the job a little less than 150 days. And this is the third government that I've seen now take over in Iraq. And as you can imagine, it takes everyone a little -- a few months there to get their legs under them. They're working hard to build unity, security and prosperity for all Iraqis. And when I talk about those three priorities with the prime minister, he fully recognizes that if you want prosperity, if you have to have security; and if you want to have security, you have to have unity. And he's been making a very significant effort on the reconciliation front.
Some examples: he's been working with political leaders from all the different sectarian groups on the four-point program to reduce violence in Baghdad. He's done that over the last week or so.
Last Saturday, he had a meeting with political leaders from Anbar province to gain their support for government programs in Anbar province.
He will be conducting, before the end of the month, the third in a series of four conferences on national dialogue and reconciliation. This one is on civil society.
He's been working with political leaders and our ambassador to craft a political timeline for where the political leaders would -- agree to coming to grips with some of the more difficult issues dividing the country: the oil revenues, federalism, militias, items of those nature.
And he's working with the international community on building an international compact that would drive investment and growth for all Iraqis.
All of these initiatives are going to take some time to come to fruition, but the energy and the commitment is there.
Second, we also continue to make progress with the Iraqi security forces. Right now we have six of the 10 Iraqi divisions -- 30 of the 36 brigades and almost 90 of the 112 Iraqi battalions in the lead. Nine months ago, for perspective, there was one division, four brigades and 23 battalions.
Now I'd like to remind everybody of where that puts us in the overall process. The overall process of building the Iraqi security forces is a three-step process.
The first step: train and equip. You organize them into units. You give them the individual training, and you equip them and you put them in a position where they are ready to go out and conduct operations.
The second step: you make them better. And for the army, that means you put them in the lead. And our strategy is to put the Iraqis in the lead with our continued support so that they learn while doing rather than learn while watching us.
And the third step is you make them independent, and that's what you'll see going on here over the better part of the next 12 months. We've said all along that we wanted to give the Iraqis the capability to conduct independent counterinsurgency operations, and that is the program that we are currently on.
I would also say that we continue to make progress with the Ministry of Interior and police forces. Now, the police have a bad reputation in Iraq, and from my view, that's undeserved. Broadly, it's undeserved. There are units within the national police forces that deserve that reputation, and I think you just saw recently where one of those units was actually pulled off line by the minister of Interior for complicity in some sectarian violence.
With respect to the Ministry of Interior forces, two of the 18 Iraqi provinces now have already assumed Iraqi control in their province.
What that means is that the police forces in that province are capable of maintaining domestic order without routine coalition support, and in Muthanna province and Dhi Qar province that is happening. I would expect to see six or seven Iraqi provinces under provincial Iraqi control by the end of the year.
We are about 90 percent through building the police and border forces that we said we were going to help the Iraqis build, and we expect to complete that by the end of the year. We've also with the Iraqis started a national police reform program, where will take a whole Iraqi national police brigade offline, move them to a training base and give them three weeks of police training and loyalty training, so that we change not only the -- their abilities but the ethos of the unit. That will go on at about one brigade a month here until it's completed in the August timeframe.
Finally, we have -- because our goals here are to help the Iraqis over the long term, we have instituted -- helped them institute two professional development courses for junior and mid-level officers this year, and we will put it -- and help them put in place a course for senior officers and non-commissioned officers over the course of next year.
And lastly, as some of you have seen this, but the minister of Interior himself has instituted a ministry reform program. He announced it at the Council of Representatives. He emphasizes loyalty, accountability and operational performance. And as part of this program, his inspector general and his internal affairs divisions have already processed over 3,000 corruption cases -- are investigating 3,000 corruption cases and almost a thousand human rights cases, and he's taken action already in relieving over 1,200 officers, including a few general officers.
So lots of work to do with the police and still with the army, but the progress you're seeing there is heartening.
Now, another way to look at progress to help you get some perspective on this is take a look at what one of our divisions accomplishes in Iraq over the course of a deployment. In this case, I'll talk about the 101st Airborne Division, who was responsible for an area in northwest Iraq, was there from November 2005 until just this last September.
Over that period, they detained over 150 high-value individuals, each one of these a painstaking intelligence collection and development effort that led to the capture of an individual.
They secured over 200 polling sites for the December elections and allotted 1-1/2 million Iraqis to vote in those provinces.
They moved two Iraqi divisions, nine brigades and 35 battalions into the lead. They brought five provincial and 11 district police headquarters up to the second-highest level of preparation. They oversaw the training integration of over 32,000 police. They supported the development of two strategic infrastructure brigades with 14 battalions.
They supervised the building of a hundred police stations, 130 border forts and improved seven international ports of entry in the -- along the borders. And as a result of that progress with the Iraqi security forces, they were able to reduce a two-star headquarters, two coalition brigades, a total of 10,000 coalition forces, and they closed 25 bases over the course of that time.
Looking back, it's not insignificant what a division can get done by taking small steps every day. And that's what we say. We make progress in Iraq every day, small steps at a time.
So bottom line? Tough situation in Iraq. And I suspect that through Ramadan and over the next couple of months, it's going to continue to be difficult.
That said, we continue to make progress across the country every day. It's a tough business, but the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines of the coalition and their Iraqi colleagues are well up to the task, and they do magnificent job under difficult circumstances.
In closing, I think it's important for the American people to know what a magnificent job their servicemen and -women are doing in a very, very difficult environment. And we and then the Iraqis continue to move forward against very divisive forces that are trying to deny the Iraqi people the prosperous future that they so well deserve after 35 years under Saddam Hussein. And we will succeed in Iraq, but it will take patience, and it will take will.
Finally, I'd like to recognize the sacrifices of the families who've lost loved ones, and I'd like to particularly recognize the family of Lieutenant General Hashimi, who was murdered yesterday. I served with him -- he was the first chief of the Iraqi armed forces -- served with him briefly in the early days in Baghdad. And I'd also like to recognize the families of deployed soldiers, who make great sacrifices every day in support of their deployed soldiers. Both these groups are in our thoughts and prayers.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Thank you, General.
Q General, do you agree with the findings of a study that estimated that 655,000 Iraqis have died due to the war? And if you don't agree with that, what is your estimate?
GEN. CASEY: I have not seen the study. That 650,000 number seems way, way beyond any number that I have seen. I've not seen a number higher than 50,000. And so I don't give that much credibility at all.
Q What's the 50,000 number? Where did you see that from?
GEN. CASEY: I don't remember, but I've seen it over time.
Q Is that the U.S. military estimate?
GEN. CASEY: I don't remember where I saw that. It's either from the Iraqi government or from us, but I don't remember precisely.
SEC. RUMSFELD: I think it's important to appreciate that the insurgents and al Qaeda make a -- Muslims make a practice of killing Iraqi citizens who are Muslim. And it is a -- they do it aggressively, they do it purposely, and they do it successfully. It doesn't take a genius to kill unarmed civilian people who are going to a shop or operating at a gas station or functioning in a shopping area. And what we have is Muslim extremists killing Muslims and attempting to take over that country and -- notwithstanding the fact that over 95 percent of the Iraqi people don't want that to happen, and 12 million of them went out and voted, at risk to their lives, so that it would not happen.
Q Mr. Secretary?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Yes?
Q General Schoomaker said this morning that for planning purposes, the Army is putting together troop rotations at current levels through 2010. And I realize that planning is done with a lot of uncertainty in mind. My question to you is, can you keep up that pace for that long without loosening the limitations on the use of National Guard and Reserve, and without wearing out the active force?
SEC. RUMSFELD: You know, I saw the Associated Press headline that said, "Army: Troops to Stay in Iraq Until 2010." Schoomaker did not, of course, say anything like that, and it's unfortunate that stories go out mischaracterizing what people say.
The Army has the responsibility, at the direction of General Pace, and David Chu, and me, and the president, to look out over a period of time and do a series of sensitivities as to what if this, or what if that, and how might they do it, and to then undertake a planning process to see if they were asked to do this, what might they do. And that's what the Army does. General Schoomaker and the Army does not set force levels in Iraq. They're not the ones who determine how many will be there and until what year they'll be there. That's a function of General Casey and General Abizaid reporting to me and to the president.
Q But my question was, can you keep up that pace without loosening the limitations on the use of the National Guard, if you were to be continuing with the current pace?
SEC. RUMSFELD: I don't want to speculate. There are a variety of different things that the -- I've received, I think, two or three of a series of six or eight briefings -- 10 maybe -- that the Army -- correction -- that the Joint Staff has prepared, Joint Forces Command for the most part, that works with all the services. And what they're doing is looking at these various sensitivities, and we're looking around corners, up ahead, and asking ourselves how we would do things.
And there are a variety of things you can do. You can continue to do what we're doing, moving military people out of civilian posts that civilians can occupy, you can rearrange -- use the Air Force and the Navy to a greater extent than they've been used. They're leaning very far forward already and have done a terrific job in both Iraq and Afghanistan and in various other backup activities.
The options that we have are numerous, and what we have to do is decide, if we were asked to do something, what might we do and how would we do it? Until we've completed this series of briefings and gone back and asked -- answered a series of -- a lot of questions that I ask when I get briefed, why, we -- I'm not in a position to even speculate about answering your question, nor do I think it would be useful.
Q General Casey, Anthony Cordesman, in the latest of many reports on the war, wrote, "Iraq is already in a civil war. The U.S. simply cannot wait to see if it's existing strategy and actions will work. They will not. The situation is spiraling out of control. The U.S. must either strongly reinforce its existing strategy or change it." And I want to get your response in particular to --
SEC. RUMSFELD: (Off mike) -- ever had a other than negative report like that? I can't think of one.
Q I won't evaluate it. I just wanted to toss it out there and say, given particularly the fact that you were talking about the increase in the need to look after the civil conflict there, whatever you want to call it, is it a fair assessment at all to say that Iraq is currently in a civil war?
GEN. CASEY: I don't believe so. And I don't -- the Iraqis I talk to don't believe so either. It's a difficult struggle. If you took a 30-mile radius from the center of Baghdad and drew a circle, 90 percent of the sectarian violence that goes on in Iraq, 80 to 90 percent, would take place in that circle; a little bit outside of that in Diyala Province, and a little bit down in Basra. So the idea that the country's aflame in sectarian violence is just not right. So I don't subscribe to the civil war theory.
The other thing I'll say is we constantly review our strategy and review what's going on, and we adapt as we need to. And as you saw in July, I was on a track to recommend off-ramping a couple of brigades, and the situation on the ground didn't support that, and so I reversed that and we kept the forces there.
And so we constantly look at what we need, and I ask for what I need.
Q Can I just ask you to respond generally to what Anthony Cordesman wrote there? Generally, can you just sort of respond to the criticism that the U.S. needs to change its strategy?
GEN. CASEY: I think I just did. I mean, I just said we constantly look at what's going on and we adapt what we're doing to meet the conditions on the ground.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Barbara?
Q General Casey, I note going back to what you just said that several weeks ago, you made the decision not to off-ramp troops. But since that decision, in fact, all the statistics show that fatalities for U.S. troops are on the rise, the number of wounded continues to rise, the number of attacks continue to rise. Senator Warner has now come out and expressed his concern that something now has to change in the next two to three months. So you have made that one decision, but what are you looking at now to -- in terms of reviewing, changing, adapting your strategy? And what's the next step to get control on the violence strictly from the security standpoint, not economic and political?
GEN. CASEY: The operational strategy to deal with the increases in violence is something that I'm working very closely with Pete Chiarelli. But the broad strategy, where we are working to bring the levels of insurgency down as we bring Iraqi security forces up, I believe, is still a valid framework for what we're doing there in Iraq. And we will continue to look tactically at what's happening on the ground and my subordinate commanders will work to deal with that.
Q But in the last six weeks, it's all gone upward. How do you --
GEN. CASEY: It actually hasn't all gone upwards. I think we shouldn't try to sugarcoat this. The levels of violence over the last few weeks are as high as they have been.
But I would point out a couple of things.
One, we count that. We count what the enemy does for our own purposes so we can make some judgments and assessments on the enemy, and then we report that. And people say that's the measure of your success. We count everything from a rifle shot to a car bomb as part of those totals.
Now, we're not comfortable with the levels of sectarian violence in Baghdad. Neither is the Iraqi government, and we're working with them to take measures to deal with that.
The plan that we have in effect in Baghdad has affected the levels of sectarian violence in Baghdad -- not as quickly as we would have liked. When we first started our program in Baghdad, we saw a sharp drop-off. Then they fought back, and now we've been fighting back, and it's going back down again. But it's still higher than we like. And this is going to be a long-term process. It's not going to be something that we're going to get done quickly.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Yes.
Q If the violence in Iraq is mostly confined to five provinces, why have only two provinces been turned over to Iraqi lead? And does that say the strategy of how you're pushing forward the Iraqi security forces is flawed and needs to be reevaluated?
GEN. CASEY: No, it doesn't. First of all, we're not pushing Iraqi security forces forward, we're training them and preparing them to take on independent responsibility. The provincial Iraqi control contains assessments about the security situation, about the readiness of the police, their capabilities; about the readiness of the army forces in the provinces, and about the ability of the governor and the provincial security council leader to orchestrate security operations in that province.
So we, with the governors of the provinces, make assessments in each of those areas, and when they feel and we feel that they're ready, then that bubbles up and the recommendation is made to the prime minister that this province transfer. So it's a pretty deliberate process. And we're not pushing anybody.
Q By the end of the year, how many provinces would you hope to have transferred?
GEN. CASEY: Based on the projections that the governors are giving us now, we think -- I think six or seven. And I think you're going to see that continue in 2007.
SEC. RUMSFELD: It should be pointed out that as General Casey sets up benchmarks and targets, projections as to what he would like to accomplish, he has control over a portion of it, the Iraqi government has control over a portion of it, and the enemy has control over a portion of it. And what may very well happen is that he will make a projection, and with respect to some province it will go sooner than we projected; some might go later; some even might go and not work out and have to be taken back, fixed, and then given back to the Iraqis at some point.
So that -- I think one ought not to think of it as a perfectly smooth, predictable path. But the benchmarks that are out there include the passing over of Iraqi divisions for Iraqi control in their chain of command; the passing over of provinces; the closing and the transferring of military bases. We now have gone, I think, from something like 110 down to 55, and we will continue to close or pass over military bases to the Iraqis as appropriate. But I want to just punctuate that because it will be recurring theme as we go forward. So.
Q Mr. Secretary, with North Korea, can there be effective diplomacy with a regime like North Korea without a strong military deterrent in effect in their face?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, I guess time will tell. I think the answer is probably yes; but one can't be certain. I think that the president is clearly on the right path in marshalling other countries to support an approach to try to leverage the world opinion to cause the Korean government to change their direction.
It's not in the world community's interest to have them succeed in threatening the world with nuclear weapons or proliferating those technologies. The world has to understand that and see that, and that's why he has been so energetic and diligent in working with other countries recently and within recent days, fashioning a group to work through the United Nations. I think that it is very definitely the proper thing to do.
And the -- there are things -- non-kinetic things that can be done to North Korea that the U.N. would consider and other countries are considering. Indeed, one country's already announced some steps quite apart from anything the United Nations might do -- and, as they say, non-kinetic.
But I think the answer to your question is probably yes, but one can't know that with certainty, because you'd have to be able to climb inside the mind of the leadership in that country and not only just the leader but the interaction between the leader and the small cadre of people that he may listen to.
Q Mr. Secretary, you said just before North Korea conducted its test that you thought we would know -- the United States would know whether or not it was a nuclear detonation or not. It's been a couple of days now. Do you know or do you think -- will we ever know for sure?
SEC. RUMSFELD: I'm going to answer it carefully, because it's really an -- the intelligence community is doing the analysis. And they are doing it on their own hook. They're doing it in reasonably close consultation with other countries that have reason to have knowledge of the subject.
If you think back to the Indian nuclear test and the Pakistani nuclear test back in the '90s, as I recall, our information there was quite sparse -- indeed, almost nonexistent in one case and very, very long in coming in another. And I'm doing this from memory, but I think it would be -- we know -- we will know something. We -- there are various factors that determine when we will know with that something.
It's unlikely we will know everything, because it is a closed society, and absent certain kinds of intelligence, it's impossible to know of certain knowledge certain things that take place in a closed society. But I think over the period ahead the information will settle down and we'll have a better visibility into what actually took place.
Q As of this point, do you think it was a nuclear test?
SEC. RUMSFELD: I don't want to speculate. I just don't think it's useful. If I say something, someone will then assume that I had some knowledge which I don't have. I think it's proper to wait and let the sifting and the sorting go and the consultations with other countries, and they triangulate and try to figure out what this means and what that might mean.
You want to put that picture up of the Korean peninsula, if you can do it?
Q (Off mike) -- your favorite photo.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Except for my wife and family, that is my favorite photo. It says it all. There's the south of the Demilitarized Zone, the same people as north, same resources north and south, and the big difference is in the south it's a free political system and a free economic system, and --
Q (Off mike) -- years old now. Can we get a new one? (Laughter.)
SEC. RUMSFELD: I'm a conservative. I tend not to want to waste money. What's wrong with -- (laughter) -- what's wrong with this one? There would only be less light in the North, that's all. That dot of light is Pyongyang. And the people there are starving and their growth is stunted. And it's a shame. It's a tragedy.
Q What good are sanctions going to do if the country is already in such dire straits, and the regime appears to be only concerned about perpetuating its --
SEC. RUMSFELD: Most dictatorial regimes care only about perpetuating themselves in power. That is -- when they get up in the morning, that's what they worry about. They don't worry about their people. They don't worry about elections. They don't worry about a free press. They don't worry about all the things that people worry about in a democracy.
Q My question is, what good will sanctions do for that regime?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, time will tell. And we'll have to see the extent to which the international community decides that they don't want a world with more nuclear powers, they don't want to lower the nuclear threshold, they don't want to run the risk of having weapons of mass destruction find their way into the hands of non-state entities and terrorist groups, and that only by cooperating and a cohesive approach to a problem like this is the world going to be able to deal with it effectively.
And I suspect that it is possible for sufficient pressure to be marshalled to deal with it, but it will take a lot of -- it will take a relatively common threat assessment, assessment of the world's circumstance on the part of other countries. It will take a willingness on the part of other countries to forego commercial opportunities in exchange for security interests. And it will require all the international community of free nations to decide that action during this period when the threat is not immediate is the time to do it rather than when the threat becomes more immediate, in whatever number of years that may be.
So I'm very -- I'm strongly supportive of what the president's doing. I think he's working this very hard.
He cares deeply about it and is on the right track.
Q Mr. Secretary?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Yes.
Q You've made it very clear that the commanders in Iraq get what they need -- have gotten what --
SEC. RUMSFELD: Within reason.
SEC. RUMSFELD: I mean don't commit me into the future.
Q Okay, but you've made that clear. The president today said if General Casey wants to make any changes in strategy that you will support him.
So my question is: Do you bear any responsibility for what has gone wrong in Iraq or is it all General Casey's fault?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Oh, this is a question that gets asked every time there's a press conference. You know, give me all your sevens. Tell us what you've done wrong. Why do we have to keep going through this? Of course I bear responsibility; my Lord, I'm secretary of Defense. Write it down, quote it. You can bank it.
Q But the strategy is one that the generals in Iraq get what they want. That, you know, it's up to them if they want more --
GEN. CASEY: We recommend. We recommend. Okay?
Q You recommend --
GEN. CASEY: We recommend.
Q Is it your job to challenge those recommendations or are they just accepted?
GEN. CASEY: I would say we get pretty good questions when we come in with things. So I feel well supervised by my civilian leadership.
SEC. RUMSFELD: I know that's a disappointment for you, but -- (laughs) --
Q (No it isn't ?).
SEC. RUMSFELD: Jim.
Q General, do you need more troops in Iraq than you have now?
GEN. CASEY: I don't -- right now, my answer is no. But we're continuing to work things back there, and if I think I need more, I'll ask for more and bring more in.
Q If the violence continues to increase at the rate it is now, do you think that that's something that you'll have to look at?
GEN. CASEY: Yes. It's really -- it's a tough nut -- whether or not bringing in more troops, more U.S. troops will have a significant long-term impact on the violence. There's no question locally more troops will have some affect on the levels of violence, but whether more U.S. troops for a sustained period will get us where we're going faster is an open question. And that's part of the calculations that I make as I go through this.
SEC. RUMSFELD: It's not an easily calculation. It's a tough one. There's no guidebook where you get up in the morning and look in the guidebook on Chapter 7, page 6 that tells you how to do this. And General Casey and his team works through it. They work through it with General Abizaid. They work through it with the chiefs -- joint chiefs. They work with it with General Pace and Ed Giambastiani. They then come in and brief me and the senior civilian team, and then, we brief the president and work with him. It is getting enormous attention, and there is no road map. It is tough stuff, and in my view, General Casey's doing a terrific job.
Thanks a lot, folks.
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