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I am currently carrying out some research into the Washington Post reporter, Walter Pincus. Pincus also helped George H. W. Bush and Robert Gates during the Iran-Contra investigation. In an article published in July, 1991, Pincus called for the Senate to approve Bush's nomination of Gates as director of the CIA. In 1992, Pincus falsely claimed that "special prosecutors have told former Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger that he might face indictment on felony charges in the Iran-Contra scandal, unless he provided them with evidence they believe he has against former President Reagan... The dramatic attempt to get a former cabinet officer to turn on his commander-in-chief occurred a few days ago as Independent Counsel Lawrence E. Walsh tried to conclude his five and one-half year investigation of the affair."

A few days later Pincus wrote that Lawrence E. Walsh was considering indicting Ronald Reagan. This was again untrue and Walsh argues in his autobiography, Firewall, that Bush was using Pincus to spread disinformation on the investigation. As Walsh pointed out: "Of all the sideswipes that we suffered during this period, the false report that we were considering indicting the nation's still-admired former president hurt us the most."

Walsh was attacked by the right-wing media of carrying out the "biggest witch hunt in America since Salem". The leader of the Republican Party in the Senate, Bob Dole, made a speech where he called on Walsh to close down the investigation. He criticized Walsh's "inability to understand the simple fact that it is time to leave Iran-Contra to the history books".

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It is reported that the Senate blocking of John Bolton as ambassador to the UN is connected to a deal done over Robert Gates. Steven Clemons, a foreign policy analyst at the New America Foundation said: "I think there may be a quid pro quo going on to get a smoother transition process for Bob Gates."

Gates will face his Senate confirmation hearing today. I hope the Democrats bring up his involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal and his attempts to politicise intelligence when he was head of the CIA.

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It was a wise move by Gates to tell the Senate committee that the US is not winning the war in Iraq. Democrats were reluctant to make life difficult for him by asking awkward questions. They probably believe that if he is confirmed as Defence Secretary he will cause problems for George Bush. However, I am not convinced that Bush was not in it with Gates. Once in office he will continue with these mad policies. They may even increase the number of US troops in Iraq. Nor will Gates be able to negotiate any deal with Iran and Syria. They have the US right where they want them.

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http://www.guardian.co.uk/Columnists/Colum...1965998,00.html

Jonathan Steele

Thursday December 7, 2006

The Guardian

James Baker is a lawyer, a fixer, a Republican, a friend of the Bush family, and a deeply political animal. He is not an independent radical or a man known for original thinking. So the question in the wake of his Iraq Study Group's predictably uncontroversial report is why it was ever set up.

The first purpose was to provide an alibi for the president ahead of last month's congressional elections. Critics of his disastrous strategy in Iraq could be told that Bush was listening to the American people and understood their concerns. That was why he had set up a blue-ribbon panel to evaluate all options. Nothing was taboo. The tactic did not work, and Bush and his Republican party took a heavy beating. It was not Baker's fault so much as a sign that voters felt they had to send a message to Baker as well as Bush. A majority of Americans, as well as Iraqis, want US troops to leave.

The second purpose of the study group was to co-opt the Democrats, to get them behind Bush's war. Having a bipartisan panel with an equal number of members from both parties was intended to make it hard for Democrats to reject its report. Baker, after all, was the man who masterminded the manoeuvrings in 2000 over whether Florida should have a full recount. His job was to get Al Gore and the rest of the Democrats to swallow their anger and fall into line behind the argument that there was no time and that the better strategy was to take the dispute to the supreme court - where Bush's side had a clear judicial majority.

Now the plan is to lock the Democrats into agreeing with the main thrust of Bush's Iraq policy over the next two years, with the aim of preventing it from provoking a major divide during the 2008 campaign for the White House. It is not a difficult task. The main Democratic contenders, starting with Hillary Clinton, are weak fence-sitters who show no desire to challenge Bush directly. None are as clear-sighted as John Murtha, the Pennsylvania congressman who started calling for a US troop withdrawal a year ago. Nor, unless he or she is yet to emerge, is there a Eugene McCarthy or Robert Kennedy figure with the authority to rally voters against a failed president, as there was when Lyndon Johnson was mired in Vietnam.

The third purpose in appointing Baker's panel is the most extraordinary. The country's political elite wants to ignore the American people's doubts and build a new consensus behind a strategy of staying in Iraq on an open-ended basis, with no exit in sight. "Success depends on unity of the American people at a time of political polarisation ... Foreign policy is doomed to failure - as is any action in Iraq - if not supported by broad, sustained consensus," say Baker and his Democratic co-chair, Lee Hamilton, in their introduction. In other words, if things go wrong, it will be the American people's fault for not trusting in the wisdom of their leaders.

The Baker panel recognises, as does Bush, that the central plank in US policy in Iraq over the next two years has to be a dramatic reduction in US casualties. At the present rate, in only a few days more Americans will have died in Iraq than on 9/11; if you add the US death toll in Afghanistan, that point has already been reached. Bush's war on terror has killed more Americans than Bin Laden's terror.

What Baker proposes is essentially a continuation of what Bush is already doing - trying to reduce US deaths by moving troops out of the frontline while avoiding any commitment to a full US withdrawal. Baker fails to consider an early withdrawal objectively, describing that option as "precipitate" and "premature". He admits a timetable is necessary as part of national reconciliation among Iraqis, but says the conciliation has to be agreed before a timetable can be discussed rather than vice versa. Benchmarks will be outlined for when to let the Iraqi army take the lead role in Baghdad and other provinces, but this is all fiction. The Iraqis will still be able to call on US artillery, air strikes and, as a last resort, ground troops. It smells exactly like the Vietnamisation strategy of the 1970s, which was similarly designed to lessen US opposition to an unpopular war.

Bush rejects the Vietnam analogy. He is correct on one point. In Vietnam there was a clearly defined enemy - a disciplined army and an established government with whom Henry Kissinger could negotiate an American troop withdrawal. In Iraq the insurgency has no central structure and no recognised leader. But Bush should not duck the strategy for want of a partner.

He will have to announce a timetable for pulling out US troops, not just from combat duties but from Iraq. Keeping them in bases without any pledge of a final withdrawal will not only keep the nationalist insurgency alive; it will allow Iraq's political leadership to shelter under Washington's wing and pursue their sectarian rivalries indefinitely.

Baker is right to suggest a regional conference to promote stability in Iraq, but its precondition has to be an early end date for the last US soldier to leave - no later than December 2007. Otherwise the conference will fail. Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey will attend whatever happens. Syria and Iran will not, and they are the key players. Without a clear, rapid timetable for the US to go, they would risk looking like collaborators in the occupation, a role they reject.

Baker argues that a US withdrawal would leave Iraq in chaos, leading to a terrorist enclave in the largely Sunni western provinces or a civil war for control of Baghdad. Equating change with catastrophe is the oldest trick. In spite of the ferocious inter-communal clashes of recent months, the Sunni-Shia split is still under potential political control.

The Iraqi parliament adopted a national reconciliation plan this summer to which most parties at least paid lip service. The Americans have been talking directly and through intermediaries with former Ba'athists and other insurgent leaders. These are hopeful signs. The earlier US effort to detach Sunni politicians from the resistance has not worked. What is unclear is how far-reaching an amnesty the US and the Shia politicians will offer.

With the prospect that it could appoint a genuine unity government committed to peace, this internal conference is the right way to go. But - as with the regional conference - the precondition for its success has to be a clear commitment from Washington that it is leaving Iraq. Fudging the end date or hoping it need never be promised will not end the war. Baker is not suggesting anything as radical as this, of course. No one should ever have thought he might.

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Iraq Study Group or Saudi Protection League?

by Greg Palast

They're kidding, right?

James Baker III and the seven dwarfs of the "Iraq Study Group" have come up with some simply brilliant recommendations. Not.

Baker's Two Big Ideas are:

1. Stay half the course. Keeping 140,000 troops in Iraq is a disaster getting more disastrous. The Baker Boys' idea: cut the disaster in half -- leave 70,000 troops there.

But here's where dumb gets dumber: the Bakerites want to "embed" US forces in Iraqi Army units. Question one, Mr. Baker: What Iraqi Army? This so-called "army" is a rough confederation of Shia death squads. We can tell our troops to get "embedded" with them, but the Americans won't get much sleep.

2. "Engage" Iran. This is a good one. How can we get engaged when George Bush hasn't even asked them out for a date? What will induce the shy mullahs of Iran to accept our engagement proposal? Answer: The Bomb.

Let me explain. To get the Iranians to end their subsidizing the Mahdi Army and other Shia cut-throats, the Baker bunch suggest we let the permanent members of the UN Security Council -- plus, Germany -- decide the issue of Iran's nukes. Attaching Germany is the signal. These signers of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) agree that Iran should be allowed a "peaceful" nuclear power program.

More... Now, I am absolutely wary of neo-con nuts who want to blow Iran to Kingdom-come over its nuclear ambitions. But that doesn't mean we should kid ourselves. Iran has zero need of "peaceful" nuclear-generated electricity. It has the second-largest untapped reserve of natural gas on the planet, a clean, safe, cheap source of power. There's only one reason for a "nuclear" program, and it's not to light Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's bedside lamp.

Here's the problem with Baker's weird combo of embedding our boys with Iraq's scary army while sucking up to the Iranians: it won't work. The mayhem will continue, with Americans in the middle, because the Baker brigade dares not mention two words: "Saudi" and "Arabia."

Saudi Arabia is the elephant in the room (camel in the tent?) that can't be acknowledged -- and the reason Baker is so desperately anxious to sell America on keeping half our soldiers in harm's way.

James III wants to seduce or bully Iran into stopping their funding of the murderous Shia militias. But the Shias only shifted into mass killing mode in response to the murder spree by Sunni "insurgents."

Where do the Sunnis get their money for mayhem? According to a seething memo by the National Security Agency (November 8, 2006), the Saudis control the, "public or private funding provided to the insurgents or death squads." Nice.

Baker wants us to bribe or blackmail Iran into stopping one side in Iraq's uncivil war, the Shia. Yet we close our eyes to the Saudis acting as a piggy bank for the other side, the Sunni berserkers. (The House of Saud follows Wahabi Islam, a harsh, fundamentalist sect of Sunnism.)

Why is Baker, ordinarily such a tough guy, so coy with the Saudis? Baker Botts, the law firm he founded, became a wealthy powerhouse by representing Saudi Arabia. But don't worry, the Iraq Study Group is balanced by Democrats including Vernon Jordan of the law firm of Akin, Gump which represents … Saudi royals.

Of course, the connections between Baker, the Bush Family and the Saudis go way beyond a few legal bills. (See, "The Best Little Legal Whorehouse in Texas" from my book Armed Madhouse.

Baker is more than aware that, two weeks ago, Dick Cheney dropped his Thanksgiving turkey to fly to Riyadh at the demand of the Saudis for a dressing down by King Abdullah. The Saudis have made it clear that they will crank up their payments to warriors in Iraq to protect their Sunni brothers if America pulls out our troops.

King Abdullah's wish is Cheney's command -- and Baker's too. The Saudis want 70,000 US troops baby-sitting the Shia killers in Iraq's Army -- and so we will stay.

What gives King Abdullah the power to ghost-write the Iraq Study Group recommendations? It's not because the Saudis sell us broccoli.

And therein lies the danger. Behind the fratricidal fracas in Iraq is something even more dangerous than bullets in Baghdad: a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia to control Iraq's place in OPEC, the oil cartel. What is painted by Baker's Iraq Study Group as an ancient local clash between Shia and Sunni over the Kingdom of God, is, in fact, a remote control proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia over the Kingdom of Oil.

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This article raises important issues about Blair's relationship with the intelligence services. It has received little publicity in the UK but hopefully the actual testimony will now be published in the world's media.

http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/politics/article2076163.ece

Whistleblower that ministers tried to muzzle

By Anne Penketh and Andy McSmith

Published: 15 December 2006

Carne Ross wrestled with his conscience for three more months after he secretly submitted evidence to the Butler committee into the use of pre-war intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

Beset by long-standing private doubts about the Government's Iraq policy which he had implemented for four years in New York, he had previously drafted "about six" resignation letters in the past which he never sent.

But after emailing his testimony to the Butler committee from Kosovo where he was on secondment, Mr Ross realised that he had probably jeopardised his 15-year career. After agonising for another three months, he sent another email in September 2004, this time terminating his employment with the Foreign Office. He was 38.

Until then, he had been on the fast track to diplomatic glory, during a Foreign Office career which began in Bonn. In New York, where he worked from December 1997 to June 2002 as first secretary at the UK mission to the United Nations, he was responsible for Iraq policy.

It was a turbulent period, yet he still found time to take a playwriting course, which gave rise to his first play The Fox, performed in New York, in which a young peacekeeping officer is changed for ever after watching a massacre in a country bearing a striking resemblance to Bosnia.

After leaving the Foreign Office, Mr Ross established Independent Diplomat, which assists small, democratic countries with no experience in diplomacy to punch above their weight.

Mr Ross was back in the spotlight last month, following his revelation to the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee that he had testified to Butler, and that he was prepared to share the information. But he said: "I was advised by the lawyers of my union that I might be liable for prosecution under the Official Secrets Act if it was to become public."

Labour's Andrew Mackinley - a long-standing member of the awkward squad - did not agree. He insisted that if Mr Ross handed his own evidence over to a Commons committee, he would be protected from prosecution by parliamentary privilege.

But the committee chairman, Mike Gapes, a government loyalist, needed to think carefully before taking such a step. He tried to close the meeting with the matter undecided, but as it was breaking up, Mr Ross spoke again. "I have given it years of thought," he said. "This has been on my conscience for a very long time, and I was waiting for an opportunity under privilege to share my evidence to the Butler inquiry. I would be happy to share it with the committee."

The committee met again in closed session on 6 December. There are rumours that there was a fierce argument, but the outcome was a letter from the committee clerk to Mr Ross, asking for a copy of his evidence.

The next meeting, on Wednesday, was also held in secret, but again there were rumours of a ferocious argument. Whatever was said, the outcome was that in the morning, the evidence that had been kept secret for two-and-a-half years was available on the internet, at last.

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So what did Carne Ross tell the Butler Inquiry that he is being threatened with the Official Secrets Act if he told anybody else?

Here is an article that appeared in the New Zealand Herald today:

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/section/story.cf...jectid=10415635

The British Government's case for going to war in Iraq has been torn apart by the publication of previously suppressed evidence that Prime Minister Tony Blair lied about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

An attack on Blair's justification by Carne Ross, Britain's key negotiator at the United Nations, has been under wraps because he was threatened with being charged with breaching the Official Secrets Act.

Ross, 40, makes it clear Blair must have known Saddam Hussein possessed no WMDs. He said that during his posting to the UN, "at no time did HMG [Her Majesty's Government] assess that Iraq's WMD (or any other capability) posed a threat to the UK or its interests".

He also reveals British officials warned US diplomats that bringing down the Iraqi dictator would lead to chaos.

"I remember on several occasions the UK team stating this view in terms during our discussions with the US (who agreed)."

He claims "inertia" in the Foreign Office and the "inattention of key ministers" combined to stop Britain carrying out any sustained attempt to address sanction-busting by Iraq, an approach which could have provided an alternative to war.

The Foreign Office had attempted to prevent the evidence being made public, but it has been published by the Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs after MPs sought assurances it would not breach the Official Secrets Act.

Ross told the inquiry "there was no intelligence evidence of significant holdings of CW [chemical warfare], BW [biological warfare] or nuclear material" held by the Iraqi dictator before the invasion.

"There was, moreover, no intelligence or assessment during my time in the job that Iraq had any intention to launch an attack against its neighbours or the UK or the US," he added.

Ross' evidence directly challenges assertions by Blair that the war was legally justified because Saddam possessed WMDs which could be "activated" within 45 minutes and posed a threat to British interests.

This is what Daily India had to say today:

http://www.dailyindia.com/show/93487.php/B...-possessed-WMDs

London, Dec 15 (ANI): Former UK negotiator at the UN, Carne Ross, who helped negotiate several UN security resolutions on Iraq, has challenged the "legality" of the Iraq war, saying that before joining the US forces for waging the war, British Prime Minister Blair must have known that Saddam Hussein didn't possess any WMDs.

In the evidence delivered to the Lord Butler inquiry, which investigated intelligence blunders in the run-up to the conflict, Ross revealed that "Blair had lied" over Saddam Hussein's WMDs.

Ross' evidence directly challenged the assertions earlier made by Blair that the war was legally justified because Saddam possessed WMDs that could be "activated" within 45 minutes and posed a threat to British interests.

Ross, whose evidence had been kept under wraps for the reason that their publication they would breach the Official Secrets Act, revealed that UK officials had on several occasions warned their US counterparts that war on Iraq would lead to serious consequences.

In his deposition before the Butler inquiry, he reportedly said: "There was no intelligence evidence of significant holdings of CW (chemical warfare), BW (biological warfare) or nuclear material held by the Iraqi dictator before the invasion. There was, moreover, no intelligence or assessment during my time in the job that Iraq had any intention to launch an attack against its neighbours or the UK or the US."

Ross (40) was considered a "highly rated diplomat", but he resigned because of his misgivings about the legality of the war. He still fears the threat of action under the Official Secrets Act, reported The Independent.

He said that during his posting to the UN, "at no time did HMG [Her Majesty's Government] assess that Iraq's WMD (or any other capability) posed a threat to the UK or its interests."

Ross revealed that it was a commonly held view among British officials dealing with Iraq that any threat by Saddam Hussein had been "effectively contained".

In the testimony revealed today, Ross also revealed that British officials warned US diplomats that bringing down the Iraqi dictator would lead to the chaos the world has since witnessed.

"I remember on several occasions the UK team stating this view in terms during our discussions with the US (who agreed). At the same time, we would frequently argue when the US raised the subject, that 'regime change' was inadvisable, primarily on the grounds that Iraq would collapse into chaos," the paper quoted him as saying.

According to it, the British Foreign Office had attempted to "prevent the evidence being made public", but it has now been published by the Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs after MPs sought assurances from the Foreign Office that it would not breach the Official Secrets Act. (ANI)

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Voice of America

Al Pessin

Pentagon

18 December 2006

http://www.voanews.com/english/2006-12-18-voa57.cfm

Robert Gates took his ceremonial oath of office as U.S. defense secretary, administered by Vice-president Dick Cheney, who was defense secretary 15 years ago.

After taking the oath in the Pentagon auditorium, surrounded by some of the 2.5 million members of the U.S. military and half a million civilians he now leads in the Defense Department, Secretary Gates said dealing with the situation in Iraq is his top priority.

"We simply can not afford to fail in the Middle East," said Robert Gates. "Failure in Iraq at this juncture would be a calamity that would haunt our nation, impair our credibility and endanger Americans for decades to come."

Speaking at the ceremony, President Bush called Robert Gates a man of "vision" and "integrity," and said he comes into office at a time of "great consequence."

"He understands that defeating the terrorists and the radicals and the extremists in Iraq and the Middle East is essential to leading toward peace," said President Bush. "As secretary of defense he will help our country forge a new way forward in Iraq."

Secretary Gates addressed President Bush directly at Monday's ceremony.

"You have asked for my candor and my honest counsel at this critical moment in our nation's history," he said. "And you will get both."

Gates said he will soon travel to Iraq to seek the advice of U.S. military commanders and others.

"I look forward to hearing their honest assessments of the situation on the ground and to having the benefit of their advice, unvarnished and straight from the shoulder," said the new U.S. defense secretary.

And Gates said he will also be focusing on Afghanistan, where Taliban insurgents and criminals have been threatening the new government and the coalition that supports it.

"Progress made by the Afghan people over the last five years is at risk," he said. "The United States and its NATO allies have made a commitment to the Afghan people, and we intend to keep it."

Analyst Lawrence Korb of the Center for Defense Information, a former senior defense department official, says there are no easy answers in Iraq, but he expects Secretary Gates to make some changes in an effort to reduce the violence and help the Iraqi government take hold.

"I find it very hard to think Gates would have taken the job if he did not feel he could change the current policy," said Lawrence Korb. "I really feel that he will make a difference. Certainly, if Secretary Rumsfeld had remained there, I think there would have been very little chance to make any meaningful changes."

At his confirmation hearing earlier this month, Gates said there are "no new ideas on Iraq," and that the challenge is to combine existing ideas to develop an effective strategy. He also said the United States is not winning in Iraq, and he did not take this job to do nothing about that.

Robert Gates comes to the job of defense secretary after spending most of the last four decades in government service - starting in an entry-level job at the Central Intelligence Agency, and rising to lead that agency, as well as to serve as deputy national security adviser to President Bush's father. Gates said Monday decisions that will be made in the remaining two years of the president's term will determine whether the United States succeeds in Iraq and Afghanistan, or whether what he called "the forces of extremism and chaos" will be on the rise.

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, whose term ended Monday morning, said last week he would spend the Christmas and New Years holidays with his family, and might write a book about his time in office. His press secretary says Rumsfeld will have a government office near the Pentagon for several months to sort through his papers and provide any further help that is needed in the transition to Secretary Gates' leadership.

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Bush Could Usher in a Very Dangerous New Year

By Robert Parry, Consortium News. Posted December 26, 2006.

http://www.alternet.org/stories/45852/

The first two or three months of 2007 represent a dangerous opening for an escalation of war in the Middle East, as George W. Bush will be tempted to "double-down" his gamble in Iraq by joining with Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair to strike at Syria and Iran, intelligence sources say.

President Bush's goal would be to transcend the bloody quagmire bogging down U.S. forces in Iraq by achieving "regime change" in Syria and by destroying nuclear facilities in Iran, two blows intended to weaken Islamic militants in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.

The Israeli army and air force would carry the brunt of any new fighting albeit with the support of beefed-up U.S. ground and naval forces in the Middle East, the sources said. Bush is now considering a "surge" in U.S. troop levels in Iraq from about 140,000 to as many as 170,000. He also has dispatched a second aircraft carrier group to the coast of Iran.

So far, however, Bush has confronted stiff opposition from the Pentagon's Joint Chiefs of Staff to the plan for raising troop levels in Iraq, partly because the generals don't think it makes sense to commit more troops without a specific military mission.

But it's unclear how much the generals know about the expanded-war option which has been discussed sometimes in one-on-one meetings among the principals -- Bush, Olmert and Blair -- according to intelligence sources.

Since the Nov. 7 congressional elections, the three leaders have conducted a round-robin of meetings that on the surface seem to have little purpose. Olmert met privately with Bush on Nov. 13; Blair visited the White House on Dec. 7; and Blair conferred with Olmert in Israel on Dec. 18.

All three leaders could salvage their reputations if a wider war broke out in the Middle East and then broke in their favor.

Bush and Blair spearheaded the March 2003 invasion of Iraq that has since turned into a disastrous occupation. In summer 2006, Olmert launched offensives against Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, drawing international condemnation for the deaths of hundreds of civilians and domestic criticism for his poorly designed war plans.

The three leaders also find themselves cornered by political opponents. Bush's Republican Party lost control of both the House and Senate on Nov. 7; Blair succumbed to pressure from his own Labour Party and agreed to step down in spring 2007; and Olmert is suffering from widespread public disgust over the failed Lebanese war.

Yet, despite these reversals, the three leaders have rebuffed advice from more moderate advisers that they adopt less confrontational strategies and consider unconditional negotiations with their Muslim adversaries.

Most dramatically, Bush spurned a bipartisan Iraq Study Group plan that was co-authored by the Bush Family's long-time counselor, former Secretary of State James Baker.

Instead of heeding Baker's advice to begin a drawdown of U.S. troops from Iraq and start talks with Iran and Syria, Bush rejected the notion of a "graceful exit" and then set unacceptable preconditions for talks with Iran and Syria.

In other words, Baker tossed a life preserver to Bush who threw it back.

Victory agenda

Bush has continued to insist on "victory" in Iraq and has again ratcheted up his rhetoric. He now talks about waging a long war against Islamic "radicals and extremists," not just the original goal of defeating "terrorists with global reach."

At his news conference on Dec. 20, Bush cast this wider struggle against Islamists as a test of American manhood and perseverance by demonstrating to the enemy that "they can't run us out of the Middle East, that they can't intimidate America."

Bush suggested, too, that painful decisions lay ahead in the New Year.

"I'm not going to make predictions about what 2007 will look like in Iraq, except that it's going to require difficult choices and additional sacrifices, because the enemy is merciless and violent," Bush said.

Rather than scale back his neoconservative dream of transforming the Middle East, Bush argued for an expanded U.S. military to wage this long war.

"We must make sure that our military has the capability to stay in the fight for a long period of time," Bush said. "I'm not predicting any particular theater, but I am predicting that it's going to take a while for the ideology of liberty to finally triumph over the ideology of hate. ...

"We're in the beginning of a conflict between competing ideologies -- a conflict that will determine whether or not your children can live in a peace. A failure in the Middle East, for example, or failure in Iraq, or isolationism, will condemn a generation of young Americans to permanent threat from overseas."

So, rather than looking for a way out of the Iraq quagmire, Bush -- now waist deep in the muck -- is determined to press on.

Bush's dilemma, however, is that time is working against him. Not only are the American people increasingly angry about U.S. troops caught in the middle of a sectarian civil war in Iraq, but Bush's domestic and international political bases continue to erode.

Blair, who is widely derided in the United Kingdom as "Bush's poodle," is nearing the end of his tenure, and Bush's Republican Party is worried about Election 2008 if American soldiers are still dying in Iraq in two years.

Plus, few military analysts believe a temporary troop "surge" alone will stop the steady deterioration in Iraq. Bush acknowledged as much at his news conference.

"In order to do so ['the surge'], there must be a specific mission that can be accomplished with more troops," Bush said. "That's precisely what our commanders have said, as well as people who know a lot about military operations. And I agree with them that there's got to be a specific mission that can be accomplished with the addition of more troops before I agree on that strategy."

Though not making much sense as a way to quell the civil strife in Iraq, a U.S. military buildup could help protect American interests in Iraq if Israeli attacks on Syria and Iran touch off retaliation against U.S. and British targets.

Wider war

For Bush, this idea of expanding the war outside Iraq also is not new. Since spring 2006, Bush reportedly has been weighing military options for bombing Iran's nuclear facilities, but he has encountered resistance from senior U.S. military officers.

As investigative reporter Seymour Hersh wrote in The New Yorker, a number of senior U.S. officers were troubled by administration war planners who believed "bunker-busting" tactical nuclear weapons, known as B61-11s, were the only way to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities buried deep underground.

A former senior intelligence official told Hersh that the White House refused to remove the nuclear option from the plans despite objections from the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "Whenever anybody tries to get it out, they're shouted down," the ex-official said.

By late April 2006, however, the Joint Chiefs finally got the White House to agree that using nuclear weapons to destroy Iran's uranium-enrichment plant at Natanz, less than 200 miles south of Tehran, was politically unacceptable, Hersh reported.

"Bush and [Vice President Dick] Cheney were dead serious about the nuclear planning," one former senior intelligence official said.

But -- even with the nuclear option off the table -- senior U.S. military officials worried about the political and economic fallout from a massive bombing campaign against Iran. Hersh wrote:

"Inside the Pentagon, senior commanders have increasingly challenged the President's plans, according to active-duty and retired officers and officials. The generals and admirals have told the Administration that the bombing campaign will probably not succeed in destroying Iran's nuclear program. They have also warned that an attack could lead to serious economic, political, and military consequences for the United States."

Hersh quoted a retired four-star general as saying, "The system is starting to sense the end of the road, and they don't want to be condemned by history. They want to be able to say, 'We stood up.' "

Beyond the dangers from Iran's nuclear program, the Bush administration views the growing Shiite crescent across the Middle East as a threat to U.S. influence.

Washington Post foreign policy analyst Robin Wright wrote that U.S. officials told her that "for the United States, the broader goal is to strangle the axis of Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria and Iran, which the Bush administration believes is pooling resources to change the strategic playing field in the Middle East."

By summer 2006, Israeli sources were describing Bush's interest in finding a pretext to hit back at Syria and Iran. That opening came when border tensions with Hamas in Gaza and with Hezbollah in Lebanon led to the capture of three Israeli soldiers and a rapid Israeli escalation of the conflict into an air-and-ground campaign against Lebanon.

Bush and his neoconservative advisers saw the Israeli-Lebanese conflict as an opportunity to expand the fighting into Syria and achieve the long-sought "regime change" in Damascus, Israeli sources said.

One Israeli source told me that Bush's interest in spreading the war to Syria was considered "nuts" by some senior Israeli officials, although Prime Minister Olmert generally shared Bush's hard-line strategy against Islamic militants.

In an article on July 30, 2006. the Jerusalem Post also hinted at the Israeli rejection of Bush's suggestion of a wider war into Syria. "Defense officials told the Post ... that they were receiving indications from the US that America would be interested in seeing Israel attack Syria," the newspaper reported.

In August 2006, the Inter-Press Service provided additional details, reporting that the message was passed to Israel by Bush's deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams, who had been a central figure in the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s.

"In a meeting with a very senior Israeli official, Abrams indicated that Washington would have no objection if Israel chose to extend the war beyond to its other northern neighbor, leaving the interlocutor in no doubt that the intended target was Syria," a source told the Inter-Press Service.

In December 2006, Meyray Wurmser, a leading U.S. neoconservative whose spouse is a Middle East adviser to Vice President Cheney, confirmed that neocons in and outside the Bush administration had hoped Israel would attack Syria as a means of undermining the insurgents in Iraq.

"If Syria had been defeated, the rebellion in Iraq would have ended," Wurmser said in an interview with Yitzhak Benhorin of the Ynet Web site. "A great part of it was the thought that Israel should fight against the real enemy, the one backing Hezbollah. ... If Israel had hit Syria, it would have been such a harsh blow for Iran that it would have weakened it and (changed) the strategic map in the Middle East."

In early 2007, the revival of this neoconservative strategy of using the Israeli military to oust the Syrian government and to inflict damage on Iran's nuclear program may represent a last-ditch -- and high-risk -- gamble by Bush and the neocons to salvage their historic legacy.

If that is the case, then Bush will approve "the surge" in U.S. forces into Iraq, which likely will be followed by some provocation that can be blamed on Syria or Iran, thus justifying the expanded war.

Betting the lives of American soldiers and countless civilians across the Middle East, Bush will follow the age-old adage of gambling addicts: in for a dime, in for a dollar.

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This article in last week's Sunday Times probably explains the US administration thinking on Iraq (December 24, 2006)

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2088-2517657.html

Send more troops to Baghdad and we’ll have a fighting chance

Frederick Kagan

A decisive moment in world history is at hand. If the United States, Britain and their allies fail in Iraq the result will almost certainly be a regional maelstrom. If the coalition succeeds, then the West will regain the initiative against radical Islam in Iran and throughout the Muslim world.

The current trajectory in Iraq is poor: rising sectarian violence threatens to rend Iraqi society and destroy America’s will to continue the struggle.

The choices are bleak: nobody has yet developed a convincing plan to resolve this conflict through diplomacy, politics or any other form of soft power. Hopes for success now rest on the coalition’s willingness to adopt a strategy of bringing security to the Iraqi population and confronting the sectarian violence directly as the prerequisite for subsequent political, economic and social development.

Embracing such a strategy would mark a dramatic change from the approach that the US military has pursued since April 2003. Since the beginning of the counter-insurgency effort US central command has focused on training Iraqi soldiers and police to establish and maintain security on their own. America’s own military efforts to establish security have been reactive, sporadic, under-resourced and ephemeral.

The creation of an Iraqi army that now numbers more than 130,000 troops is an impressive accomplishment, but that army has proved unable to stem the violence on its own. On the contrary, as its size and quality have increased the violence has grown even more.

Those well versed in the art of counter-insurgency will not be surprised by this phenomenon, since providing security to the population is a core task for any counter-insurgent force — as the recently released US military doctrinal manual on the subject emphasises.

It is now time to abandon the failed strategy of “transition” and return to the basics of counter-insurgency and stability operations by bringing peace to the Iraqi people.

Baghdad is the centre of gravity of the struggle in Iraq today. The United States, the government of Iraq and the insurgents have all identified it as the place they intend to win or lose. It is also the largest mixed community in Iraq.

Any hope for keeping Iraq together as a unitary state — thereby avoiding a genocidal civil and probably regional war — rests on keeping Baghdad mixed.

However, sectarian strife is leading rapidly to sectarian cleansing and many of Baghdad’s mixed communities are being forcibly purified. Bringing peace to those areas and ending the violence must be the primary task of coalition strategy.

Establishing security is a military task in the first instance. Troops must move through Baghdad’s neighbourhoods, examining every house and building, finding weapons caches and capturing insurgents and armed militias.

American forces have conducted many such operations in the past, including Operation Together Forward II as recently as the autumn.

In all previous operations the clearing of embattled neighbourhoods was followed by a rapid withdrawal of US forces. Insurgents of both sects then swarmed back in to the cleared areas to demonstrate the failure of the exercise by victimising the helpless inhabitants.

Success in such operations requires persistence. Once a neighbourhood has been cleared, US and Iraqi forces must remain to maintain security.

Partnered at the platoon or company level, they must live in the neighbourhoods and man permanent checkpoints. This approach was used with great success in Tal Afar in September 2005 and thereafter and is being used even now in some districts of Baghdad.

Units that remain in neighbourhoods rapidly gain the trust of the locals, who volunteer more information about troublemakers from within the neighbourhood and interlopers from outside.

The presence of US and Iraqi troops brings greater security, which enables the start of economic and political development. It is unfortunate that this basic counter-insurgency approach has been neglected so far, but it is not too late to undertake it.

Clearing and holding the critical mixed and Sunni neighbourhoods in Baghdad would require approximately nine American combat brigades, or about 45,000 soldiers. There are now five brigades operating in Baghdad, so America would have to add four more — about 20,000 soldiers.

In the past, central command generated surges in security in parts of Iraq by drawing forces from elsewhere. This approach created opportunities for the insurgents in the denuded areas. It would be wiser instead to couple a surge in Baghdad with an increase of troops in the other key hotbed of the insurgency, Anbar province.

There are now the equivalent of three brigades of US troops in Anbar. An additional two (about 10,000 troops) there would not allow the United States to clear and hold the province but would prevent insurgents fleeing the fight in Baghdad from destabilising Anbar further.

It would also place greater pressure on Al-Qaeda and the Sunni Arab insurgency, whose violent assaults on Shi’ite areas are a principal cause of the growth of Shi’ite militias.

Military action by itself will not lead to success, of course. The clearing of neighbourhoods must be accompanied by immediate reconstruction efforts.

These efforts should take two forms. All cleared neighbourhoods should receive a basic reconstruction package aimed at restoring essential services. But reconstruction can also be used as a form of incentive.

Neighbourhoods that co-operate with coalition efforts to maintain security could be rewarded with additional reconstruction efforts to improve their overall quality of life. These efforts should be channelled through Iraqi local (not central) government structures as much as possible.

The insurgents, particularly the Shi’ite Mahdi army, have begun imitating Hezbollah by providing services to the population of Baghdad in return for loyalty and support.

By offering reconstruction assistance through local Iraqi leaders, the coalition would get Iraqis used to looking to their own government for essential services.

Combining these efforts with the establishment and maintenance of real security would reduce the strongest recruiting tools that the Sunni and Shi’ite militias now have and would make possible future reconciliation and political progress.

The coalition forces can succeed in the end only if they can turn the responsibility for maintaining security over to the Iraqi forces; the training of the Iraqi army must also continue.

If a plan of this variety were adopted, in fact, the training of the Iraqis would improve dramatically. Embedding trainers in Iraqi units is a good start, but it is not as effective as partnering Iraqi units with coalition troops in planning and conducting missions.

This plan would also solve another critical problem: instead of presenting the growing Iraqi army with an ever-increasing security challenge, this strategy would lower the level of violence even as it expanded the Iraqis’ capabilities. Such an approach is the only way to make a successful transition to an independent and secure Iraq.

The increase in US troops cannot be short-term. Clearing and holding the critical areas of Baghdad will require all of 2007. Expanding the secured areas into Anbar, up the Diyala River valley, north to Mosul and beyond will take part of 2008.

It is unlikely that the Iraqi army and police will be able to assume full responsibility for security for at least 18 to 24 months after the beginning of this operation.

This strategy will place a greater burden on the already overstrained American ground forces, but the risk is worth taking.

Defeat will break the American army and marines more surely and more disastrously than extending combat tours. And the price of defeat for Iraq, the region and the world in any case is far too high to bear.

Frederick W Kagan is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq

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Some political commentators have been suggesting that Robert Gates has been brought in to organize the US withdrawal from Iraq. I think the opposite is the case. His role is to convince the Pentagon to support the idea of sending even more US troops to Iraq.

It is reported that George Bush has told senior advisers that the US and its allies must make "a last big push" to win the war in Iraq and that instead of beginning a troop withdrawal next year, he wants to increase US forces by up to 20,000 soldiers.

It seems my forecast was correct. Robert Gates testimony before the Senate Committee was just an attempt to fool the Democrats into accepting his nomination. From today onwards he will be arguing that to win the war the United States has to increase the number of US troops in Iraq. This is the politics of madness. Even if it was possible to suppress the insurgency, it would need a lot more that the 22,000 extra troops that Bush will announce today.

This is of course linked to the recent bombings of Somalia. These images of the war on terror being about hunting down the enemy by air will obviously go down with the right-wing. Not that it will do anything but increase the number of Muslim fundamentalist terrorists in Somalia.

The third strand of his policy is Iran. No doubt the Bush administration is looking for a Gulf of Tonkin incident in order to join forces with Israel for an attack on Iran.

Maybe our American members can tell us if Bush and Gates will get away with this. Or will the American politicians wake up and begin impeachment proceedings.

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It's a neat twist on democratic accountability. In last November's midterm elections, Americans sent a message as clearly as they could, short of hiring a plane to spell it out in skywriting above Pennsylvania Avenue: we want this war to end. Bush promised he had heard them - and is promptly doing the very opposite. One New York Times editorial wondered if he had even watched the 2006 election night results or whether he had just curled up in front of a videotaped repeat of the Republican victories of 2002.

The Republicans have form in this area, of course. In 1968, Richard Nixon was elected on a promise to end the war in Vietnam: instead, it intensified until another 55,000 US troops were dead, along with an estimated 2 million south-east Asians. But Bush's showing of his middle finger feels more brazen, if only because it is not only the American public he is ignoring, but people you would think he might respect.

Only weeks have past since the Iraq Study Group, led by his father's consigliere, James Baker, recommended a face-saving extrication from Iraq. That plan is now binned. So too are the senior military leaders who counselled against sending more troops to fight a losing war. General George Casey will no longer be in charge, while General John Abizaid has been relieved of his post running Central Command, or Centcom. Both men opposed the "surge", calling instead for a gradual US withdrawal. The Arabic-speaking Abizaid had the audacity to say as much publicly: "The Baghdad situation requires more Iraqi troops," not more Americans, he said.

So now we know what the much-vaunted new Bush strategy for Iraq amounts to: throw more gasoline on the fire. It's conceivable that Bush is, in fact, planning an eventual withdrawal, but hoping that one last push will give him something he can call victory as a finale. Psychologists spot similar behaviour in compulsive gamblers who, when in trouble, increase their bets, hoping for a win that will allow them to leave the table with dignity. They have a word for such thinking: delusional.

And where do we Britons fit into this downward slide from purgatory into hell? Tony Blair is still on the old script. In an essay in the current edition of Foreign Affairs, he says we are not winning the war on terror "because we are not being bold enough ... in fighting for the values we believe in". Elsewhere, though, optimists see signs that we are gradually inching away from the calamity: they note Gordon Brown, our presumptive next prime minister, condemning the execution of Saddam Hussein as "deplorable." Perhaps that was a pointer to better things to come. But there is something lame about the current convention which allows our politicians to criticise discrete aspects of this war - the 2003 disbandment of the Iraqi army, the reconstruction effort, the conduct and filming of Saddam's death (though not the punishment itself) - while requiring them to stay silent on the crime of the invasion itself.

I know, I know, what else could Brown say, given that he voted for the war and sat next to Blair through it all rather than resigning in protest? But once he's in No 10 he will have to do better than stating the obvious about the barbarism of life in today's Baghdad. He will have to make a clean break from this most terrible chapter in British and American foreign policy and set out a new, radical strategy for the war against jihadism, one that understands that you don't catch the terrorist fish by machine-gunning them from the sky, but by draining the sea of grievance in which they swim. That work will be long and slow and require enormous political brainpower. And it is the polar opposite of everything George Bush stands for.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/st...1986719,00.html

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Robert Gates, the new defence secretary, recently insisted: "I don't know how many times the president, secretary [of state Condoleezza] Rice and I have had to repeat that we have no intention of attacking Iran."

The sad fact is Gates can say it as many times as he likes because no one believes him. In April 2002, Bush told Trevor McDonald: "I have no plans to attack [iraq] on my desk." An $8 cab ride to the Pentagon and Bush would have found the plans on Donald Rumsfeld's desk. He knew this because he put them there four months earlier. On November 21 2001, he asked Rumsfeld: "What kind of war plan do you have for Iraq?"

True they are pursuing diplomatic avenues to derail Iran's nuclear programme, but we now know that this may be little more than a sideshow. The day before Iraq was due to let in UN weapons inspectors, Bush told Rumsfeld and the head of central command, General Tommy Franks, to "dissociate a big deployment or build-up from what Colin [Powell] is doing on the diplomatic front ... Don't make it look like I have no choice but to invade".

The aim here isn't to reprosecute the case against the Iraq war - in almost every venue but the White House and Downing Street that has been won - but to illustrate that the duplicities from that war and a possible next one are playing out concurrently. Whatever excuses people make for backing an attack on Iran, what they can't say is they didn't know.

Nor does it mean America will attack tomorrow. But it does mean they are almost ready to attack today. "Targets have been selected," says Vincent Cannistraro, a US intelligence analyst. "For a bombing campaign against nuclear sites, it is quite advanced. The military assets to carry this out are being put in place. We are planning for war."

These plans run not in historical parallel with the period before the attack on Iraq, but rather in lockstep with the current situation there. They do not so much replicate the preparations as seek to exploit the dire situation caused by the invasion.

For the time being, US focus has shifted from Iran's desire to acquire a nuclear bomb - a development that should be resisted by diplomatic means, because it will undermine prospects of stability and peace in the region - to its involvement in Iraq. The accusation is that the Iranians are supplying insurgents with a bomb known as the "explosively formed penetrator", which, the Pentagon says, is responsible for killing at least 170 US military personnel and wounding a further 620. Bush claims these weapons were provided by Quds, an elite branch of the Iranian military. He admits he has no idea whether the Iranian government is involved or not.

There are a few problems with this. First, the US is in no position to condemn other countries for meddling in the foreign affairs of Iraq. Second, the administration's credibility, like Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, is non-existent. Recently, the Pentagon's inspector general, Thomas Gimble, slammed Rumsfeld underling Douglas Feith for wilfully contorting intelligence about links between Iraq and al-Qaida in order to justify the Iraq war. Feith compiled a briefing that was "inappropriate" with conclusions that were "not fully supported by the available intelligence", concluded Gimble, who fell just short of branding Feith an outright xxxx.

But most importantly, the region's biggest obstacle to peace and stability is not Iran but the US. The invasion of Iraq has both bolstered Iran's standing by installing a friendly Shia regime in Baghdad, and given Iran every reason to arm itself for fear of imminent attack from US bases now embedded on its border. Each time the White House issues threats against Iran, it strengthens the crude, anti-semitic prime minister Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who can rally the nation around a foreign enemy - a strategy with which Bush is all too familiar.

"We have to throw away the notion the US could not do it because it is too tied up in Iraq," says Colonel Sam Gardiner, a former US air force officer who has carried out war games with Iran as the target. "It is an air operation."

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/st...2016222,00.html

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Robert Gates, the new defence secretary, recently insisted: "I don't know how many times the president, secretary [of state Condoleezza] Rice and I have had to repeat that we have no intention of attacking Iran."

The sad fact is Gates can say it as many times as he likes because no one believes him. In April 2002, Bush told Trevor McDonald: "I have no plans to attack [iraq] on my desk." An $8 cab ride to the Pentagon and Bush would have found the plans on Donald Rumsfeld's desk. He knew this because he put them there four months earlier. On November 21 2001, he asked Rumsfeld: "What kind of war plan do you have for Iraq?"

True they are pursuing diplomatic avenues to derail Iran's nuclear programme, but we now know that this may be little more than a sideshow. The day before Iraq was due to let in UN weapons inspectors, Bush told Rumsfeld and the head of central command, General Tommy Franks, to "dissociate a big deployment or build-up from what Colin [Powell] is doing on the diplomatic front ... Don't make it look like I have no choice but to invade".

The aim here isn't to reprosecute the case against the Iraq war - in almost every venue but the White House and Downing Street that has been won - but to illustrate that the duplicities from that war and a possible next one are playing out concurrently. Whatever excuses people make for backing an attack on Iran, what they can't say is they didn't know.

Nor does it mean America will attack tomorrow. But it does mean they are almost ready to attack today. "Targets have been selected," says Vincent Cannistraro, a US intelligence analyst. "For a bombing campaign against nuclear sites, it is quite advanced. The military assets to carry this out are being put in place. We are planning for war."

These plans run not in historical parallel with the period before the attack on Iraq, but rather in lockstep with the current situation there. They do not so much replicate the preparations as seek to exploit the dire situation caused by the invasion.

For the time being, US focus has shifted from Iran's desire to acquire a nuclear bomb - a development that should be resisted by diplomatic means, because it will undermine prospects of stability and peace in the region - to its involvement in Iraq. The accusation is that the Iranians are supplying insurgents with a bomb known as the "explosively formed penetrator", which, the Pentagon says, is responsible for killing at least 170 US military personnel and wounding a further 620. Bush claims these weapons were provided by Quds, an elite branch of the Iranian military. He admits he has no idea whether the Iranian government is involved or not.

There are a few problems with this. First, the US is in no position to condemn other countries for meddling in the foreign affairs of Iraq. Second, the administration's credibility, like Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, is non-existent. Recently, the Pentagon's inspector general, Thomas Gimble, slammed Rumsfeld underling Douglas Feith for wilfully contorting intelligence about links between Iraq and al-Qaida in order to justify the Iraq war. Feith compiled a briefing that was "inappropriate" with conclusions that were "not fully supported by the available intelligence", concluded Gimble, who fell just short of branding Feith an outright xxxx.

But most importantly, the region's biggest obstacle to peace and stability is not Iran but the US. The invasion of Iraq has both bolstered Iran's standing by installing a friendly Shia regime in Baghdad, and given Iran every reason to arm itself for fear of imminent attack from US bases now embedded on its border. Each time the White House issues threats against Iran, it strengthens the crude, anti-semitic prime minister Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who can rally the nation around a foreign enemy - a strategy with which Bush is all too familiar.

"We have to throw away the notion the US could not do it because it is too tied up in Iraq," says Colonel Sam Gardiner, a former US air force officer who has carried out war games with Iran as the target. "It is an air operation."

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/st...2016222,00.html

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