Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
August 29, 2007

Sadr's Interesting Move

Muqtada Al Sadr makes an interesting move:

Al-Sadr suspends militia activity in Iraq

Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has ordered a six-month suspension of activities by his Mahdi Army militia in order to reorganize the force, and it will no longer attack U.S. and coalition troops, aides said Wednesday.

The aide, Sheik Hazim al-Araji, said on Iraqi state television that the goal was to "rehabilitate" the organization, which has reportedly broken into factions, some of which the U.S. maintains are trained and supplied by Iran.

"We declare the freezing of the Mahdi Army without exception in order to rehabilitate it in a way that will safeguard its ideological image within a maximum period of six months starting from the day this statement is issued," al-Araji said, reading from a statement by al-Sadr.

This comes after two days of clashes during the pilgrimage in Kabala. The fighting were between alleged Sadr people and the Badr corps of al-Hakim supported by government troops. Hakim controls the Karbala shrine and the attached income stream. Sadr has denied that his forces were involved.

I have no real idea why Sadr is doing this, so these are just speculations:

1. An attempt by Sadr or one group working under his name to take over the shrine of Karbala has failed. This failure damaged the reputation of the movement. Now Sadr has to rebuild his forces and street cred to make sure he can win when the next round starts.

2. Sadr is planing for a Tet style offensive and this move is intended to take away some of the pressure the U.S. forces and the rival Shia forces are putting on him. Time to relax and prepare for the big one.

3. Sadr really lost control over most of his forces and needs to implement a new command structure.

Please add your theories in the comments.

One wonders how this will play out in Basra where Sadr forces just seemed to have gained control over their adversaries. Will those gains be given up? Related to that is a still unresolved issue with Sadr's interview in the Independent which Sadr denies to have given.

For Bush this move makes a good argument for the success of the 'surge': "Sadr has given up." At the same time it can be used to prolonge the 'surge': "Sadr promised to come back. We have to be prepared."

Posted by b on August 29, 2007 at 16:11 UTC | Permalink


It would seem logical for Sadr to duck and prepare, given that the STRATCOM attack on Iran is coming in the very near future. Sadr would want to tighten up his command and control, get his troops prepped, and plan out contingencies. What I can't tell is where he stands vis a vis Iran. He's a nationalist and the Islamic Supreme Council used to be Iran's stalking horse but is now part of the Maliki government allied to us. All very confusing. But perhaps he means to use the cover of the chaos to take over.

Posted by: John Shreffler | Aug 29 2007 17:17 utc | 1

If you know a shitstorm is coming, you board up your windows, conserve your ammo, stockpile everything you can get your hands on, and get your lines of defense straightened out.

When Hurricane George blows in across the border from a smoking Iran, Sadr will be prepared to do for his people.

Posted by: Antifa | Aug 29 2007 18:58 utc | 2

If Sadr stops blowing up US troops with purportedly Iran-supplied weapons, then Dubya will have to resort to the "nuclear threat" scenario to justify his attack on Iran.

Or perhaps Saddam's missing WMD's will turn up on the Iranian side of the border...

Posted by: ralphieboy | Aug 29 2007 19:21 utc | 3

I would speculate that with the Brits dug in in Basra and flying out soon there is a good chance that he will really consolidate his forces in Basra and the oil income there.

As for Karbala, there's always next year.

Posted by: Cloned Poster | Aug 29 2007 19:22 utc | 4

Has Sadr ever had a chain of command control over the all field units of the Mahdi Army? I have been under the impression that it has always been kind of a loose, decentralised organisation of young Shia with more of identity then orders.

But this is sort of a gut impression and I am not sure what I base on.

Posted by: a swedish kind of death | Aug 29 2007 19:26 utc | 5

As I posted on OT, it seems insane fascists are hell bent on starting a war w/Iran. If so, he may have been asked to back off for the moment so as not to provide a pretext. And should it happen, his strategy would prob. need to change anyway, so time to rest up, stockpile, build coalitions, wait & see... Perhaps he'll consider organizing to cut xUS supply lines to the South, or...??

Posted by: jj | Aug 29 2007 19:33 utc | 6

I personally think #3, the command structure has broken down and Sadr wants to re-organize, re-arm, re-train, and create a better-disciplined force. The Mahdi Army has always been one of the less effective militias in the current Iraqi milieu, relying upon its almost-infinite manpower to compensate for tactical incompetence. My suspicion is that Sadr has gotten some support from factions within the IRG who are willing to assist him in professionalizing the militia into a more effective fighting force, and he's trying to buy time to make that happen. (For the record, various factions within Iran back various factions amongst the Shia in Iraq, oddly enough Prime Minister Malaki is head of one of those Iranian-backed factions).

In short, everybody in Iraq is preparing for the end game, which happens after the U.S. leaves. All signs are that the U.S. will have to leave soon due to a collapse in force structure on the part of the U.S. military, which is running out of equipment, officers, and morale. So the various Iraqi factions are now more interested in preparing for the end game where they fight amongst themselves for supremecy than in fighting the U.S. military, with the exception of course of the "al Qaeda in Iraq" group and various foreign fighters, who seem to enjoy the sport of blowing up American vehicles with IED's.

Posted by: Badtux | Aug 29 2007 21:47 utc | 7

what better way to distract & discount the disaster in Iraq than to have people worry about an even greater disaster -- war on Iran.

I seriously doubt there will be any attack on Iran by this administration.

the departures of Rove & Gonzalez indicate that there is sufficient concern about GOP's prospects in 2008. Attacking Iran will not bode well for 2008. Plus the military would most rather not.

Posted by: jony_b_cool | Aug 29 2007 22:28 utc | 8

I agree with Badtux. This is an end game maneuver. Sadr definitly wants the US out AND Iran out of Iraq. Also, this tactic will allow him to see which of the factions are truly on his side and will take orders. He needs to know this if he's planning for future operations.

Posted by: Iron butterfly | Aug 29 2007 23:13 utc | 9

Another possibility to consider: realizing that Badr + US rhetoric and action against his movement is escalating to a new and qualitatively different level, he has decided to get really lethal with his rivals. And he is establishing plausible denial in advance to gain a few days of battle advantage.

Posted by: Alamet | Aug 29 2007 23:56 utc | 10

Sadr has been reading Tom Friedman and studying ju jitsu.

Posted by: biklett | Aug 30 2007 0:00 utc | 11

"the departures of Rove & Gonzalez indicate that there is sufficient concern about GOP's prospects in 2008"

what if there aren't any elections in 2008?

here's a scenario:

US/UK/Israel carpet bombs Iran.

truck bombs start going off in major US cities in the inevitable and hope-for blowback. (may have to go to plan B black ops if they don't materialize quickly enough)

Shrubco declares Martial Law, cancels elections and names George "Baby Doc" Bush president for life.

the new Haliburton domestic gulag slash reeducaton camps start filling up with dissenters.


Posted by: ran | Aug 30 2007 0:19 utc | 12

Here is another possibility:

Everyone who can, from Ahmadinejad and the IAEA on down, is doing their level best to take off the field any possible pretext for Bush to attack Iran. I doubt it is true, but at least it is nice to imagine Bush stripped of all his phony pretexts and left with no reason to push the ATTACK button. The Emperor with no clothes kind of thing.

Posted by: Bea | Aug 30 2007 0:24 utc | 13

It is definitely end-game time. I agree with CP that perhaps the move is cover for a shift of forces to Basra. That is, after all, where the bulk of the oil is. There is no point in being in control of Baghdad once the country fragments. The lapse in activity in Baghdad would look suspicious if there weren't a 'cease-fire' on.

The only chance for Iraq to survive as a national entity looks increasingly like a 3-way deal between Iran, Saudi and Turkey; premised on each of them guaranteeing their client factions won't attack the others'. The departure of the US may be the other common requirement (cf George Bush - the Uniter).

Sadr is a nationalist. If this deal happens he'll be left in the cold; ie. there are Shia factions closer to Iran, so he needs leverage. Basra could be that leverage.

Posted by: PeeDee | Aug 30 2007 0:26 utc | 14

Shrub: "pretexts? let me pull some pretexts outta my ass like last time. lessee, these here Iranians are pure evil terrists and we want their oil, er I mean this has nothing to do with oil. bombs away!"

Posted by: ran | Aug 30 2007 0:37 utc | 15

Why wouldn't Sadr stand down? after all he got Karbala's Poliece Cheif fired and he burnt down some of SCRI's offices. He made his point and starting another all out war with America will only get his supporters killed.

What's more interesting is Adel Abdul-Mahdi (SCRI) promising passage of the oil law again. I mean, how better to protect Iran than to get Bush to keep the troops bogged down in Iraq dreaming of a pony. That law has no better chance of passing than it did at any time over the last four years. Judging by all the defections in the government right now I would even say the chance is less than it ever was.

The Americans are sucking up to the Iranian backed Islamic parties that are proming them the sky, they are paying off the Sunni dominated tribes in order that they stop killing their soldiers and Sistani will not even talk to them. It's a quaqmire, Sadr knows it, and it's just a matter of time before the Americans get it. Why waste the resources?

Posted by: Sam | Aug 30 2007 3:08 utc | 16

We're not there so accepting that we are all guessing anyhow, I reckon it is some play on 2. Sadr didn't lose his shirt in Kerbala by all accounts he got the targets he aimed at and forced Hakim to ask Maliki for a curfew, and shorten the pilgrimage thereby curtailing Hakim's income stream.

By cutting a deal and and offereng to cease fire, something he could hardly do if had no control over his militia, he gets to make his point and live to fight another day without copping the consequences.

After all it wouldn't play too well into the surge report if a fucking great intra shia cnflict was going on right as Dubya's telling the world how he's won the west. That would cause a backlash which would definitely include re starting the assasination attempts. I doubt al_Sadr considers himself bulletproof. His father, father-in-law, and his two brothers have all been assassinated. That would make anyone concentrate.

al-Sadr has made most of his gains with this sort of creeping incrementalism. I may want to see Maliki's quislings and the amerikans get their asses kicked back into the middle of last century, but al-Sadr may reason that the more he can achieve quietly, the stronger he becomes.

If he has Basra and still controls most of Shia Baghdad, I guess he's going to try and fill in the spaces between. al-Sadr is an Iraqi nationalist and will want the whole lot, although his lebanese Shia connections and through that connections to Syria, have never really been called in to question by amerika. That is strange after all his cousin Imam Moussa as-Sadr was the founder of Amal. Amal was one of the prime movers of Syrian intervention in the Lebanon.

Amal discouraged Shia from involving themselves in the Lebanese civil war, which was waged by leftist elements led by the PLO on one side and the right wing xtian Phalange on the other. Yet after everything was washed up it was the Shia who had consolidated the most.

Maybe that is the plan. Moqtada has insufficient formal religious education to become a great religious leader, but he does have plenty of popular political pull. Imam Moussa as-Sadr reappears from the deserts of North Africa and together with Moqtada in Iraq and Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon a swathe of Shia populated states is united in a confederation under the leadership of the former Imam now Ayatollah.

that is the scenario which has the ibn-Saud mob shitting. amerika too no doubt. The only problem is that the Shia arabs (not Persians that's a bit different) have been the proletariat of the ME. They are the poorest and most oppressed and their leadership tends to go a bit 'soft'. The leadership is humanist and puts silly ideas like the welfare of the people ahead of political power so they never seem to land the killing blow.

That is what the PLO maintained was the problem with Amal in Lebanon. They weren't ruthless enough. Maybe they didn't want to be cannon-fodder for a Sunni powerplay. The Imam must be dead by now - surely his demise would have been a condition of the repprochment with Libya.

So it's head or heart stuff. Any champion of the underdog would put his heart into wanting the Shia finally get a share of power. On the other hand thinking with the head tells us that the Sunni have successfully withstood many, many Shia attempts at insurrection over the centuries. What is so different now?

This must be what Moqtada wrestles with. How far can he go with an alliance with Sunnis? Will they set up the Shia to get wasted by the amerikans then step in and take back control?

So softly softly catchee monkey goes Moqtada al-Sadr. Two steps forward and one step back negate Maliki without letting the amerikans and the Sunnis get too tight. Wrest the economic control of Kerbala from Hakim and the political control will follow. Don't stick up too high over the parapet, lest someone attack you before the time is right.

Posted by: Debs is dead | Aug 30 2007 6:34 utc | 17

no wonder the casualty count has been declining over the last 4 months - nobody wants to kill the Oil Stealing occupiers - why is that ??

Posted by: dammit | Aug 30 2007 7:28 utc | 18

Which casualty rate is dropping? It is difficult to know the Iraqi people's causalty rates since they are supressed by amerikan dictat. However anecdotal evidence tells us the out of Baghdad deaths have surpassed any reduction in Baghdad especially the horror in the North recently.
The baby-killers are still losing as many as ever:
May 2006 79 killed May 2007 131 killed
June 2006 63 killed June 2007 108
July 2006 46 July 2007 88
August 2006 66 August 2007 79

Posted by: Debs is dead | Aug 30 2007 7:48 utc | 19

Sadr may be quiet because he's preparing for a soon-to-come US withdrawal.
Sadr may be quiet because he's preparing for a soon-to-come US attack on Iran.
Then, as others said, I have the feeling he wants to strengthen his grip on Southern Iraq, the only way oil can go out. If he controls Basra, it's not that essential to fully control Baghdad - on the contrary, totally controlling Baghdad when Basra is in your opponents' hands is useless.
I'm pretty sure we can get part of his reasoning, but we can't tell which part is the correct one.

Posted by: CluelessJoe | Aug 30 2007 8:21 utc | 20

Exercising the right to be completely wrong, and speaking without any
basis in fact, why not consider the possibility that Mookie is engaged in
under the table negotiations with the U.S. and it's allies in Iraq? As a Sciite and Iraqi nationalist, and without Alawi's CIA contamination, Sadr could (if amenable to suitable "boundary conditions") be a perfect successor to Maliki (and Saddam). The difficult point, of course, is negotiation of a cease-fire between the Sunni and Scia factions of the resistance, but perhaps a suitable timetable for U.S. withdrawal could be used as one incentive leading to a cease-fire and fig-leaf declaration of U.S. success.

Such conjecture is, of course, pure political fantasy but one suspects that the U.S. military would, if given a chance, be much more willing to engage in such negotiation than would their political masters in Washington.

Posted by: Hannah K. O'Luthon | Aug 30 2007 9:14 utc | 21

This comment by Badger is worth noting.

Posted by: Hannah K. O'Luthon | Aug 30 2007 10:43 utc | 22

Here in Denmark, the people who read their news script on tv/radio have been saying that Sadr is (once again) in Iran.

Question: is this also the meme in US news at the moment?

Reason: As far as I know from my ignorance, Sadr has hardly been commuting to Iran (to get orders from his terror masters). Instead he has been in Iraq playing his own game which is nationaalistic and in no way excludes cooperation with certain Sunni forces

Posted by: Chuck Cliff | Aug 30 2007 15:31 utc | 23

The picture continues to develop:

Hired Tribesmen Save SIIC in Sadr Stronghold

Tribal fighters bussed in to Baghdad from southern Iraq by a powerful Shi'a party fought pitched battles with elements of the Mahdi Army in Sadr City on Tuesday, in heavy fighting that destroyed several homes, part of a spiraling pattern of attacks between armed elements of rival Shi'a parties in Iraq.

The Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (SIIC), one of the principal Shi'a parties on the Iraqi political scene, hired tribal forces from around the southern city of 'Amara in Iraq’s Maysan Province, bringing them to Baghdad for the purposes of guarding the offices of the SIIC and the Badr organization -- widely recognized as the paramilitary wing of the SIIC -- in Sadr City.

(Read the above article while you can, before Slogger goes paid subscription only on September 1.)

Sadr City under siege – eyewitnesses

"Iraqi security forces closed bridges over al-Jaish Canal, which represent the main outlets to Sadr City, and banned anyone from leaving without specified reasons, however they are allowing entry into the city," an eyewitness told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI).
"Last night was calm and the city witnessed no clashes or unrest, so residents were surprised at today's siege," another eyewitness said.
The siege came one day after the decision taken by Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to freeze al-Mahdi Army for six months.

Posted by: Alamet | Aug 30 2007 23:14 utc | 24

Muqtada says a lot of things, like two million man marches to Samarra, or stand down orders in Sadr City - that never actually happen(ed). Rather like what Debs said, he's looking for reactions to exploit for incremental advances on many fronts simultaneously. But then at some point the usefulness of "rogue elements" operating with only tacit, deniable approval will have run its course and then (maybe now?) a more disciplined a-la Hezbollah chain of command is needed - when the going gets tougher.

Posted by: anna missed | Aug 31 2007 5:16 utc | 25

@Chuck - Question: is this also the meme in US news at the moment?

Yes, the U.S. militray is claiming Sadr is in Iran and the next day AlJazeerah or someone else interviews him him Hilla or Kuna, i.e. Iraq ...

Posted by: b | Aug 31 2007 5:40 utc | 26

I did quite a lengthy ... could call it a "speculative exercise in ME-style conspiracy-theory analysis???"... on the Kerbala clashes on another forum, was wondering whether/how all those current rumors-etc. of a US-backed Allawi coup being in the offing might conceivably factor into the Karbala clashes and Sadr's stand-down-and-tighten-up decision.

Here's the gist of it (see original for sub-links, full quotes etc):

Iraqi shi'ite parties/leaders in general - including both al-Hakim jr. and al-Sadr - are more than willing to engage in contained, limited rivalry skirmishes, but the last thing that Iraqi shi'ites as a group are collectively prepared to countenance is a full-scale shi'ite vs shi'ite civil war - which would weaken them all in the face of their common enemies, practically destroy the political/numerical advantage of their heavy demographic predominance in Iraq and wreck the fragile credibility of shi'ite-dominated government of Iraq "as such"... so when rivalry-clashes risk getting out of hand, experience shows the leaders invariably draw back from the brink. (Also noting that even before the Karbala clashes, Sadr had been calling for provincial and national-level pan-Shi'ite "cupola meetings" to settle their factional turf wars.)

Faik the only "party" that would stand to gain from serious inter-shi'ite warfare is that of Allawi and his backers?? Which makes one wonder - is Sadr's purge designed to weed out only backstreet hotheads and undisciplined local-unit bossmen, or does he also suspect infiltration + deliberate provocation-ops by "double agents" planted by the likes of Allawi's mysterious secret spy-force?

Remember what Sadr said in his interview with Renato Caprile of "la Repubblica" back in Jan. 2007?

Caprile: Some say that the army and police are heavily infiltrated by your men and that the marines would never be able to disarm you on their own.

Al Sadr: “The truth is exactly the opposite: it’s our militia that’s swarming with spies. And in any case, it’s not a hard task to infiltrate a people’s army. And these are the very same people who have been committing unworthy deeds to discredit the Mahdi Army. There are at least four armies ready to strike us. One is a “shadow force” which no-one ever talks about, trained under the most secret conditions in the Jordanian desert by the Americans. And then there’s the private army of Allawi himself, that infidel who will soon take Maliki’s place, which is readying itself for the fray in the former military airport of Muthanna. Then there are the Kurdish peshmergas, and lastly there are the American regular troops.”


Re Allawi and all the rumours of an imminent "replacement-coup" against Maliki, seems there had been an actual coup-attempt, or at very least a well-advanced plot in that direction as recently as July 2006. ... [long War-and-Piece quotes and link...]


Hmmmmm...? So maybe Maliki's recent statements are inspired not just by only-natural desire to paper over divisions to preserve threatened Shi'ite unity but real suspicion/certainty of Allawi-Baathists-n'-Spooks involvement in the fighting in Karbala?

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has said militants involved in violence in Karbala wanted to blow up Imam Hussein's shrine. (...) Al-Maliki earlier said his troops had restored calm to Karbala and blamed "outlawed armed criminal gangs from the remnants of the buried Saddam regime" for the violence.

Absolutely NO way Shi'ite religious-party militants of whatsoever persuasion - however undisciplined, trigger-happy, hotheaded, bloodthirsty etc etc - would even think of blowing up one of the Shia world's most sacred shrines!

So either Maliki is using "conspiracy theories" to demonize-isolate quasi-mahdi rogue fringes Sadr wants to get rid of while distracting attention from/defusing residual SIIC/Sadr tensions, or... there really was a lot more to the Karbala clashes than met the eye.


P.S. I agree that much/most of what is currently happening on the Iraqi scene consists of local power-plays in a perspective of US withdrawal (except maybe from Kurdistan?) in a 1-to-3-yr framework.

Posted by: parvati_roma | Aug 31 2007 15:22 utc | 27


good points. your link doesn't work.

Posted by: Malooga | Aug 31 2007 15:32 utc | 28

Thanks! Here's another link:
- my long-long Kerbala-etc. post's right at the bottom of the thread.

P.S. (* saying HI! and waving, blowing kisses... *) I've been a lurker-fan of this forum for a long long time, knew a couple of the posters here from the lovely Eurotrib forum where I posted for a while as Eternalcityblues... but that's more a sustainable-energy issues etc. forum and like quite a few people on this board, I'm essentially a hardcore Iraq-war, ME and international-geopolitics newsfreak. So will be back!

Posted by: | Aug 31 2007 16:01 utc | 29

Parvati Roma, welcome. That's a very interesting analysis you offer, lots of food for thought there! And thank you very much for your translation of the Reppublica interview.

Perhaps to flesh out your suspicions a bit, there was the defection of the Sadrist health minister a few months ago. The Health Ministry had long been one of the main reasons for the very bad blood between the Sunnis and the Sadrists. Everyone from Dahr Jamail onwards wrote about the violent sectarianism, the death squads operated out of the ministry, etc. And than the man (Al Shamri / Al Shammari) upped and defected to the US in May. Says a lot about the limitations of Sadr's control over his movement, really.

(Here is Parvati Roma's link in clickable form.)

Posted by: Alamet | Aug 31 2007 16:40 utc | 30

Thanks for the link, Alamet. Very interesting indeed.

Posted by: parvati_roma | Aug 31 2007 16:54 utc | 31

Iraq: Plot At Work In Karbala Violence -- Al-Karbalai

Sheikh Abdel Mahdi al-Karbalai, a representative of top Shiite cleric in Iraq Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, said during Friday prayers that he has intelligence about "an organized plot to cause clashes and create chaos" that led to the Aug. 28 violence in Karbala, Agence France-Presse reported Aug. 31. Al-Karbalai did not say who caused the fighting, but he blamed police for the violence and called for a full investigation.

Posted by: b | Aug 31 2007 17:53 utc | 32

More here:

"The administrators of the two holy shrines received intelligence information few days before the pilgrimage that there was an organized plot to foment clashes between armed gunmen and the police forces," Sheik Abdul-Mahdi al-Karbalai told the congregation at the Imam Hussein mosque during Friday prayers.

He said the plot was designed to "create chaos around the two shrines" and seize control of them. He did not say who was behind the alleged plot.

In the wake of the carnage, Muqtada al-Sadr, the country's most powerful militia leader, suspended activities of his Mahdi Army for up to six months, purportedly to purge the ranks of unruly splinter factions that threaten to discredit his movement among Iraqi Shiites.

Al-Maliki's government said in a statement Thursday that al-Sadr's decision offered a "good chance" to "suspend the work of other militias" to restore "the integrity and sovereignty of Iraq."

Al-Sadr's order appeared to have had a calming effect in Baghdad, although a little-known faction in southern Iraq — the Free Men's Brigade — said it would not abide by the decree.

Al-Sadr loyalists in Baghdad suspect the Free Men's Brigade includes mostly Shiites who were supporters of Saddam Hussein.


Posted by: parvati_roma | Aug 31 2007 20:46 utc | 33

Some Arab perspectives on Sadr's move

Posted by: Bea | Sep 1 2007 0:38 utc | 34

One angle Sadr may be exploring, with regards to the stand down of his Mahdi army - and all the Allawi coup talk, is that he may be preparing in advance for such an event. As it stands the Maliki government is in a death spiral, so it makes a certain amount of sense that Sadr might want to position himself for that eventuality, particularly if the post coup government is secular (Allawi), declares martial law, and throws out the constitution. By appearing to defer, for the moment (6 months at least) to Maliki he cannot only not be blamed for the overthrow of the UIA government but in the aftermath, may be seen as its its last and only hope for salvation. Given that the coup will be seen as yet another american betrayal of the Shia, Sadr would be pre-positioned with a legacy of having embodied that mistrust and resisted the occupation AND have control of a militia capable of an immediate military response. He will then be seen as not only as their best and only hope against oppression returned, but also as a visionary worthy of his name.

Posted by: anna missed | Sep 2 2007 9:20 utc | 35

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