McNair Paper Number 48 Chapter 4, January 1996
PURGE OF THE MONARCHISTS
Almost immediately, leading military figures were publicly displayed by the new regime in what was to become a string of summary executions that took place in "an atmosphere of arbitrariness and lack of control."(Note 1) This "reign of terror" was intended to send a clear message to the military to submit unconditionally to the new regime.(Note 2) In Tehran, three generals were paraded in front of foreign journalists as "some of the honorable thieves who have ruled this country for the last 10 years."(Note 3) The new leadership had in fact decided that a "purge of the armed forces would be undertaken, but on a limited scale, concentrating on 'corrupt elements.'"(Note 4)
Provisional Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan quickly appointed Major General Muhammad Vali Gharavi as the Chief of the Supreme Commander's Staff, in the first of what were to be many military personnel replacements carried out by the new regime.(Note 5) Bazargan also appointed Lieutenant General Sa'id Mehdiyun as Commander of the Iranian Air Force. When announcing General Mehdiyun's appointment, all air force personnel, to include "officers, warrant officer technicians, NCO's, administrative staff and enlisted men," were ordered to report for duty on the following day to their units.(Note 6) By doing so, the new regime ensured that the military were not only present and accounted for,(Note 7) they could also be employed against any potential dissident elements. Air Force Brigadier General Ayatollah Mahaqqeqi, the commander of air force fighters, was arrested. There was no reason immediately given.(Note 8)
On February 13, 1979, Major General Gharavi, Chief of the General Staff, issued an order to all senior officers of the staff command to report immediately to Staff Command
Headquarters for a conference. The urgency of the order was emphasized by the proviso that the officers were allowed to come in civilian clothes if necessary.(Note 9) Additionally, all officers, staff, and soldiers of the Army's Staff Command were ordered to report for duty to their respective sections to "discharge their duties" for the following day.(Note 10)
On the same day, an order was issued from Prime Minister Bazargan for all "officers, servicemen and employees of the War Ministry and its related organizations" to report for duty and "resume work immediately after receiving this message."(Note 11) Simultaneously, Colonel Tavakkoli, Head of the Provisional Islamic Revolution Staff Command, issued the following directive to all members of the armed forces:
Since all the units of the armed forces have accepted the leadership of His Eminence Imam Khomeyni, the leader of the revolution, all the units that have started moving toward Tehran in order to assist the units in the capital are hereby informed to immediately return to their barracks and report the whereabouts of all units in the relevant garrisons to the provisional revolution staff command. People who are on the route of these units are asked not to obstruct their movement.(Note 12)
This same day, Khomeini addressed the Iranian populace, stressing that the army, as well as the police and gendarmerie, should not be attacked because they "have returned to us, and are one of us." The Ayatollah also stated that the "army is ours," appealing not only to those elements of society who harbored anti-military sentiment, but also to the military itself.(Note 13)
Deputy Prime Minister Amir Entezam issued a statement that the 487,000-man Iranian Army was "dissolved, unfortunately." He then went on to proclaim that he entertained hopes of improving the state of affairs for the military to "put it back together again."(Note 14) This sentiment was echoed by Prime Minister Medhi Bazargan, who stated the desire to rebuild the fragmented military rapidly with the same organizational hierarchy and a distinct command hierarchy of new, appointed officers,(Note 15) cast in the mold of the nascent Islamic Republic. Although these statements seemed to indicate that the military had dissolved, its basic structure remained intact, as evidenced by the return of the soldiers to their barracks and duty stations when ordered. The real crisis was one of leadership and knowing who was in charge.
In an attempt to keep the armed forces under government control, Major General Qarani, Chief of Staff of the National Army, issued a directive for all members of the army, police, and gendarmerie to return to their duty stations as quickly as possible. Appealing to those service members who had deserted to fight against the Shah, he stated that the "dereliction of duty has been forgiven" since they "deserted their barracks at the command of the imam."(Note 16) Simultaneously, all air force personnel were recalled to their duty stations to "maintain order in Tehran." All returning members were also instructed to bring in any weapons they might possess in order to prevent "unidentified individuals" from obtaining them.(Note 17)
General Manucher Khasrodad, the Army Airborne Division Commander, was arrested on February 13 attempting to flee Iran. As a loyal supporter of the Shah, he was placed in detention for future deliberations.(Note 18) On February 15, four generals, among them the former head of the SAVAK (the Shah's widely hated secret police) and General Khasrodad were executed by a firing squad in "accordance with Islamic standards and prescriptions"(Note 19) in Tehran.(Note 20) The state radio proclaimed to "have executed the executioners of the previous regime" in order to "purify the blood of the revolution and to put new blood of the revolution into circulation."(Note 21) The radio broadcast also stated that 20 other high-ranking officers of the Pahlavi regime would face a trial by revolutionary tribunal, followed by death sentences.(Note 22)
A new arm of the military, consisting of Islamic law enforcement officials, was announced as an integral part of the military. Their presence was explained as necessary to "give the utmost assistance" as "spiritual representatives" to the armed forces.(Note 23) This was necessary because "there simply was not a core of pro-Khomeini military personnel who could displace the discredited and mistrusted Imperial officer corps"; as a result, "the full fury of the revolutionary leaders were turned on the top commanders of the Imperial armed forces promptly after the triumph of the revolution."(Note 24) While purging monarchist elements, the new regime was scrupulously careful to maintain the military's command and control structure intact to preserve it as an institution. In a message to the populace, Ayatollah Khomeini's "Propaganda Committee" issued a statement explaining the ongoing purge of the armed forces:
The purging of the armed organizations affiliated with the former diabolical regime is among the top priorities of the new government. It has top priority in the Revolution Committee appointed by Imam Khomeyni . . . all the unreliable and mercenary cadres whose loyalty to the antipopular front has been proved shall be replaced by revolutionary and popular Muslim cadres.(Note 25)
On February 17, General Qarani, Chief of Staff of the National Army of Iran, dissolved the Imperial Guard and the Immortal Guards. He directed all former members of the defunct organizations to place themselves at the disposal of the army.(Note 26) On the same day, 26 air force generals and four air force colonels were retired,(Note 27) and two military officers were arrested and handed over to the revolutionary committee.(Note 28) In the wake of the air force retirements, a new air force commander, Brigadier General Kiumars Saqafi, was appointed by General Qarani.(Note 29) On February 18, 41 generals and admirals were retired, including former Prime Minister General Gholamreza Azhari.(Note 30)
The arrests continued on February 18, with the government announcing the seizure of an undisclosed number of military officers in Tehran and other parts of the country.(Note 31) On February 19, the government announced that four more generals had been executed by firing squad in Tehran.(Note 32) On February 19, 25 more officers, including a number of generals and admirals, were retired from service.(Note 33) At the same time, seven officers in Orumiyeh were arrested and given over to the Islamic Revolutionary Council.(Note 34) The officers who were executed and retired were senior military members who had enjoyed strong ties to the monarch. Their purging was a clear signal that the new regime was intent upon removing any imperial taint from what had traditionally been the most visible symbol of the Pahlavi dynasty.
In the midst of the confusion generated by the rapid changes in the social fabric of Iran and in the wake of a rash of military executions, the Iranian military began to show signs of stress and disorientation. Dissent and crumbling discipline became apparent as soldiers began to veto the appointments of senior commanders, disobey orders, and demand the replacement of certain officers suspected of being SAVAK collaborators.(Note 35) Although the military's basic structure remained intact, the crisis within the ranks was due to a leadership vacuum. An observer noted a "disintegration of authority in the army,"(Note 36) which was indicative of the ambitions of junior officers who coveted positions held by senior officers perceived to be vulnerable to the ongoing purges.
On February 20, 20 more generals were retired.(Note 37) At the same time, four more generals were executed by Ayatollah Khomeini's Revolutionary Committee firing squad in Tehran. Upon hearing the news, Prime Minister Bazargan expressed his surprise at not being informed beforehand of the execution.(Note 38) On the same day, Iranian Army Chief of Staff General Qarani announced that more troops were returning to their barracks and duty stations. He also stated that the purges of the military would continue to remove all senior officers accused of collaboration with the Pahlavi regime. He claimed that the presence of these generals weakened the discipline of the army since the soldiers refused to obey their orders and that Iran "cannot afford to have a weak army."(Note 39) General Qarani also spoke of the challenges facing the armed forces and correctly explained some of the factors that had contributed to the army's poor performance during the Islamic Revolution:
Our problem concerns the fear, insecurity and humiliation felt by the army cadre. The necessary reconciliation between the army and the people has not been achieved yet, and this very element has been the cause of our lesser success with the capital's cadre. Basically, the army is not intended for maintaining domestic order: It is equipped to safeguard and protect the country's borders against foreign enemies. Our main program concerns organizing a national Islamic army that can pursue the ideology of a noble government with the progressive Shi'ite principles, and for this reason we want to build an army with a national character and Islamic principles. Therefore, we need the kind of personnel who are able to fulfill this critical task and who have no bad records of past misdeeds. In pursuit of this program all the generals and lieutenant generals and a number of major generals and brigadier generals have been retired and half the Imperial Guard NCO's have asked to be retired. At any rate, with the extensive purge in the army . . . many of the problems will be resolved.(Note 40)
On February 21, 16 more generals were retired,(Note 41) while four military officers were arrested and incarcerated in Shiraz.(Note 42) At the same time, six officers were appointed to new positions of military command within the regime,(Note 43) which helped to reconstruct the command hierarchy with officers possessing minimal ties to the monarchy. The retirements continued on February 24, when 32 major generals were removed from active service.(Note 44) The retirements were followed on February 25 by the appointment of 10 officers to new command positions and 11 military lawyers to new posts.(Note 45) Ten colonels were also retired on February 26.(Note 46) The Iranian Islamic Army announced on March 1 that 71 officers had been retired and that 71 more would be retired in 2 days. The rationale for retiring the 142 officers was to "organize the National Islamic Army's dimensions and make more use of young people."(Note 47)
Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Ibrahim Yazdi spoke to the press about the armed forces on March 3. He dismissed notions that the army would be disbanded although he did say that there would be some organizational and hierarchical changes:
We must preserve the army in its present form, and at the same time launch a series of programs aimed at staging a cultural revolution within the army. Furthermore, we must purge the army of the value held under the monarch, so that we might be able to create an ideal army for the Islamic government. . . . Of course, there are those in the army who will resist such changes. . . . These individuals will be removed. . . . They shall be removed and, if necessary, put on trial.(Note 48)
On March 4, 13 generals and colonels were retired from active service,(Note 49) followed by 33 brigadier generals the next day.(Note 50) On March 5, seven generals were executed at Tehran's Qasr prison, after being charged with torture and killing under the Pahlavi regime.(Note 51) On March 6, two soldiers from the military garrison at Abadan were publicly displayed and confronted by a crowd, who accused them of having shot at and arrested demonstrators during a protest that took place the previous December. The two soldiers were also accused of torturing some of the persons whom they had arrested, to include pouring acid over the genitals of male prisoners. The soldiers were then sentenced to death.(Note 52) On March 9, three persons, one of them a lieutenant general, were executed for (among other things) "corruption on earth," and "combatting God, the apostle of God, and the imam of the era."(Note 53) This incident was followed on March 12 by the execution of 11 more military personnel, to include at least one general.(Note 54)
Actually, many of the military personnel executed were charged with being "corrupt on the earth" and "warring against God," two phrases became standard justifications for carrying out executions. Dr. Ibrahim Yazdi, the Deputy Prime Minister for Revolutionary Affairs, explained that the two charges had to "be understood in the Islamic cultural context," which was "a union of church and state in which law is essentially religious law" (the Sharia), which was derived from the Quran, the teachings of Muhammad, and the work of religious legal scholars. Yazdi commented that although the charge of "corruption on earth" was a serious one, it was difficult to explain, although it did mean "endangering the life of the nation."
Islamic law scholar Joseph Schachf states that every political theory in Islam began "with the assumption that Islamic government existed by virtue of a divine contract based on the Sharia." Under those circumstances, political science was not an independent discipline (as in the West), but rather a part of theology to the extent that there was "no distinction between state and society or between church and state."(Note 55)
On March 16, Ayatollah Khomeini ordered a cessation of the closed trials and summary executions. He stated that from that moment on, all trials would have to take place under the direct supervision of the Islamic Revolutionary Council acting under the authority of the Islamic Government.(Note 56) On March 17, Dr. Ibrahim Yazdi cited the fears of a military coup as "the most important reason for the first round of executions." He went on to further justify the violence:
This is a war, this is a revolution. . . . We had to show that we mean business. Now we are in control. . . . Now we can afford to wait. Now we can have trials.(Note 57)
Yazdi also stated that the Shah had fallen so quickly that the incoming regime had not had a great deal of time to prepare to govern Iran or construct a legal system,(Note 58) much less construct a new organizational hierarchy for the armed forces.
At a press conference on April 3, Deputy Prime Minister Entezam commented that the Islamic Republic would not inhibit the retirement of senior officers from the military and would even encourage it in some instances:
Army officers from the rank of brigadier general on up will retire. If there should be a need for the expertise of some for them in restructuring the army, they might possibly be invited to serve again.(Note 59)
On April 6, three soldiers were executed in Isfahan in the first executions after a 3-week hiatus. On April 7, six soldiers were executed in Tehran following a 15-hour trial. They were condemned for their roles in the unrest of the preceding December in which the armed forces shot into demonstrating crowds from helicopter gunships. Prime Minister Bazargan protested the executions to Ayatollah Khomeini, to no avail. In the end, Bazargan had to resign himself to the resumption of the summary trials and executions of soldiers tainted by association with the monarchy.(Note 60)
Two generals were sentenced to death by secret trial and executed by the revolutionary authorities on April 9. One of them, General Amir Hussein Rabii, was the former Iranian Air Force Commander. To no avail, Rabii criticized the Shah during his trial, stating, "I realized what a hollow man I was working for when Americans such as Huyser could lead him out of the country by the nose."(Note 61)
On April 11, five more generals were executed after being condemned in a secret trial. They were charged with being "corrupt on earth" and "warring against God."(Note 62) The generals were believed to be among the most senior officials of the Pahlavi regime and included the former Chief of the Immortals (the Shah's elite guards) and a former head of the Second Department, a military intelligence organization.(Note 63) More executions followed on April 14. In the wake of these executions, the New York-based International League for Human Rights requested that the Islamic Republic review its trial procedures and stop the executions. The League's president commented that it was "no advance for human rights to have the abuses of the Shah replaced by abuses of revolutionary tribunals."(Note 64)
Ayatollah Khomeini, addressing soldiers in their barracks in the holy city of Qum on April 15, spoke of the transformation of the Army since the Islamic Revolution:
Our army today is not the satanic army but a Mohammedan army, you soldiers should protect the army. You should listen to your superiors. Expel those who cause sedition among you from your midst: The protection of the country depends on the existence of order in the army. We are your supporters and you are our supporters and the nation is the supporter of all.(Note 65)
The Army's name was changed on April 16 to the Army of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The name change was attributed to Ayatollah Khomeini by government sources to remind the nation that the army was "an inseparable part of this revolution" who would fulfill "its great mission of safeguarding the gains of the Islamic Revolution within the context of its duties."(Note 66) On the following day, Major General Naser Farbod, the Chief of the General Staff of the Army of the Islamic Republic of Iran, spoke of the changes taking place in the army as an example of the societal innovations occurring within the country:
The army, like other sectors of the community, is also being reestablished on the basis of the life-giving school of Islam. The transformation in the status of the army, which began with the end of the fallen imperial order in the form of joining the ranks of the people's struggle and resisting bloodthirsty rulers, was pursued by purging itself of antipeople elements. The greatest effort in the appointment of new commanders and senior officers was made so that the assignment of posts and positions is based only on competence and piety. For in our view, attaining rank and office is not a privilege but a heavy responsibility in the safeguarding and fulfillment of the popular mission of the army.(Note 67)
On April 18, six soldiers of the former regime were executed for their actions against anti-Pahlavi demonstrators.(Note 68) The soldiers were sentenced for "waging war against God, God's messenger, the people of Iran and the imam's representative; for sowing corruption on the earth, and effective and direct participation in killing and massacring the struggling people of Tehran and Iran."(Note 69) These executions took place on "Islamic Republic Armed Forces Day," proclaimed by Khomeini as a day for the armed forces to "demonstrate with their uniforms and their arms for the Islamic Republic."(Note 70) Khomeini stated that the people of Iran were "duty bound to show their respect for the Islamic Army and show brotherly respect toward it" now that the Army was at "the service of the people and Islam." Khomeini also said that opposition to the Army was "unseemly."(Note 71)
The demonstration fell short of Khomeini's expectations, although thousands of people came to see the event. Helicopters and aircraft flew overhead while a few platoons of army and air force personnel paraded through Tehran. The small number of military participants was contrasted unfavorably to the grand scale of the pomp and circumstance parades of the Shah and "demonstrated the drastic decline of Iran's once mighty force of 450,000 members."(Note 72)
The former Deputy Chief of the Khorramshahr Military District was sentenced to death and executed on April 20. There were three more executions on April 21, including a general and a colonel who were identified as "corrupt individuals,"(Note 73) which, by now, had become standard charges for those soldiers guilty of imperial ties.
The Iranian Army was dealt a further blow when three unidentified gunmen shot and killed General Vali Ullah Gharani, who was appointed by Khomeini as the Army Chief of Staff after the Islamic Revolution. He had later resigned after controversy regarding his heavy-handed use of force in suppressing rebellious Kurds. Iranian Government officials stated that the army would be demoralized by the General's death after undergoing internal strife and collapse during the Revolution.(Note 74)
Acting Foreign Minister Ibrahim Yazdi proclaimed on May 3 that the Iranian Government intended to reduce the size of the military by half, to 250,000 soldiers. He stated the reductions would occur over the coming 2 months.(Note 75) In early May, Ayatollah Khomeini and the clerics announced the formation of a new, independent military force to serve as a counterweight(Note 76) to the army that would be "the key to neutralization of future challenges from the armed personnel and thus to perpetuation of their rule."(Note 77) This new element was called the Pasdarans (Guardians) and eventually came to be known as the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC or Revolutionary Guards). The Pasdaran was responsible to the religious authorities and operated outside of and parallel to the established military structure.(Note 78) As a creation of the Islamic Republic, they did not have the same taint associated with the imperial military. On the contrary, they possessed the "correct" religious and political views to serve the new regime. On May 8, more executions took place amid rumors that the revolutionary authorities were considering a general amnesty for lower ranking officials of the Pahlavi regime who were not directly responsible for torture or death.(Note 79)
On May 10, Chief of the General Staff Major General Naser Farbod spoke to the media concerning the army, stating that during the Revolution, the army was "in no way defeated, but it decided to submit to the will of the nation." While stating that the army was well armed, he admitted that "army morale has not returned to its desired state." He also claimed that the creation of the IRGC would strengthen the army, while continuing the "revolutionary spirit" as it combatted "anti-revolutionary elements."(Note 80) In a later interview, General Farbod stressed the Islamic nature of the army. In this context, the army belonged to the nation and was an integral part of it, which included enjoying the freedom brought to Iran by the Islamic Revolution. This freedom "even spread into the army barracks."(Note 81)
On May 26, a military officer with ties to the Pahlavi government and who had commanded a national defense artillery battalion was sentenced to death and executed for participation in a "massacre" against anti-Pahlavi demonstrators.(Note 82) On May 29, five more soldiers were executed for their participation in suppressing anti-Shah demonstrations.(Note 83) The executions continued with the deaths of four more military personnel in Mashhad on May 30. All the "criminals" were condemned for "slaying and wounding . . . innocent" Muslims during an anti-Pahlavi demonstration (the highest ranking soldier, a colonel, was additionally charged with "using maximum firepower and the utmost severity").(Note 84) Three soldiers were also executed in Qazvin on May 30 on charges similar to those brought against the Mashhad soldiers.(Note 85)
In an attempt to further define the role of the army, General Farbod spoke on June 3 to a group of military personnel in Tehran. He stated that "in order to safeguard the revolution, the revolutionary people and the Guardians of the Revolution should be used as much as possible, for we have done nothing for the revolution." He then commented that the Army's role was to safeguard Iran's borders. An NCO then stated that if military personnel were being tried and executed for killing demonstrators, how could they be assured that they would not later be tried and executed like the soldiers of the Pahlavi regime if they suppressed the ethnic unrest occurring throughout Iran? General Farbod replied:
The situation is now different from the past. You are now moving in the direction of the wishes of the majority of the people. You are carrying out the decision of a government that has been elected by the people.(Note 86)
The Iranian Defense Ministry issued an order on June 21 banning all military personnel from making statements to the media. The order stated that many uninformed persons had made statements that contradicted the "country's supreme interests." The Defense Ministry announced that an authorized spokesman would from that moment on offer official pronouncements.(Note 87) This move was similar to United States military practices that designate a public affairs officer to hold press conferences and give official pronouncements. Any statement or press conference not approved through official channels (to include public affairs) is not sanctioned and therefore liable to administrative or judicial punishment.
In late June, the lack of discipline within the armed forces had reached such a state that the newspapers and radio broadcasts discussed daily the many examples of insubordination. In one instance, a squadron of fighter pilots refused to fly their warplanes to a troubled region and openly questioned the government's decision to suppress unrest. In another case, Navy sailors refused to perform manual labor until joined by the officers, stating "We're all equal now." Other examples included soldiers refusing to quell domestic unrest for fear of later being charged with repression.(Note 88)
In a departure from past policies, the Revolutionary Council announced on July 3 that, effective July 10, all members of Iran's armed and security forces would be granted amnesty except for instances of murder or torture. After the implementation of the new policy, any unsubstantiated complaints of murder or torture would result in a prison term of up to 2 years. A Revolutionary Council spokesman stated that the amnesty was essential to allow the armed and security forces to fulfill their duties.(Note 89)
Ayatollah Khomeini announced the implementation of the new policy on July 9. Khomeini praised Prime Minister Bazargan for suggesting the amnesty policy and lauded his efforts to serve the nation.(Note 90) At the same time, Brigadier General Saif Amir Rahimi, the Commander of Tehran's military police Revolutionary Guards unit, was dismissed from his post for making comments not authorized by his superiors. The general alleged that the armed forces were engaged in a "major conspiracy to discredit the Islamic Republic." General Rahimi refused to acknowledge the order to dismiss him issued by General Farbod, stating that he would only step down if told to do so by Khomeini himself.(Note 91) At a news conference, the general stated that the armed forces were in a sad state of disarray because of the recent purges and that force reductions had resulted in a drop in manpower from half a million soldiers to 300,000. As a result, all the senior generals were gone and discipline was almost nonexistent. He further stated that all militia groups in Iran should be disbanded and disarmed so as not to conflict with the armed forces.(Note 92)
In the wake of General Rahimi's comments, Ayatollah Khomeini stated that the general should remain in his position. General Rahimi's insistence that all elements of the armed forces must obey their generals had placed him in good stead with the regime. He had specifically aimed his comments at the Homofars, the air force technicians who staged the strikes at Farahabad that sounded the death knell for the Shah's regime. When the Homofars refused to obey orders after the Islamic Republic was established, he ordered them jailed. After Khomeini's statement, Prime Minister Bazargan and General Farbod echoed their agreement with the Ayatollah's decision.(Note 93) After his vindication, General Rahimi voiced the need for a disciplined, strong army now that the force was once again "a sound body," after the antimonarchist purges.(Note 94)
General Farbod was then removed from his post on July 21, allegedly for his "inability to improve morale in the armed forces." He was replaced by General Hussein Shakeri, who, as Iran's third military leader in 6 months, was given the new title of Chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. At the same time, four soldiers were executed for killing anti-Shah demonstrators during the preceding year's unrest.(Note 95)
Soldiers at odds with the government over the execution of a colonel and a sergeant fought with Revolutionary Guards on August 8. The confrontation took place in Orumiyeh, in northwestern Iran.(Note 96) This led to Revolutionary Guard calls for a "complete purge" of the Army to remove "mercenary elements" who engage in "antipeople" plots.(Note 97)
In another significant development in the Islamic Republic's relations with the military, Khomeini went over the heads of military leaders on August 18 and directly ordered soldiers to suppress Kurdish rebels in the town of Paveh. The military leaders in the area around Paveh had voiced their reluctance to use the army as a tool to quell internal unrest. The army officers were cognizant of what had befallen other officers who had commanded soldiers used to quell antigovernment activities during the Shah's last days and wished to avoid similar fates. Casting aside their doubts, Khomeini stated:
As head of the whole army, I give the order to the army Commander in Chief to move into the area with all the necessary preparation and I also give orders to the army garrisons and state police forces that, without awaiting any further order and wasting any time, that they move toward Paveh with the necessary ammunition, preparation and forces.(Note 98)
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