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Iraqi Women the Worse for War

Posted on May 18, 2007
AP Photo / Samir Mizban

Yanar Mohammed speaks at a women’s rights rally in Baghdad in August 2005.

By Kasia Anderson

Remember those photos of Iraqi women triumphantly raising freshly inked fingers for Western cameras after voting in their new “democracy”?  They were presented to the world by the U.S. government as an indication of a policy that would liberate Iraqi women and men.  Well, it didn’t quite work out that way, according to Iraqi women’s rights activist Yanar Mohammed, who argues that the situation for women in her country has significantly worsened since the American invasion in 2003. 

Despite his immense failings and unforgivable atrocities, Saddam Hussein ran an essentially secular government that gave women more educational, professional and social freedoms than does the current regime.  This is a source of chagrin to people like Mohammed who detested the dictatorship but fear that the future will only bring new restrictions and greater oppression for Iraq’s women under the guise of “democracy.”

On April 14, Yanar Mohammed was honored by the Feminist Majority Foundation, an organization that warned the world about what the Taliban was doing to women and girls in Afghanistan long before the U.S. decided to take military action.  As one of four special guests at the foundation’s Global Women’s Rights Awards, she was able to speak out about the many battles that she and other members of her activist group, the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, are fighting on behalf of women in their country, risking their lives on a daily basis for their cause.  Mohammed tells Truthdig’s Associate Editor Kasia Anderson about her mission and explains how the current state of affairs for Iraqi women differs from the picture painted by many Western media outlets.

Kasia Anderson:  Can you tell us in your own words about your work [with the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq], how you started and what issues are most important to your cause right now?

Yanar Mohammed:  After this war started on Iraq I immediately decided to go back to set up an organization and to be the voice for free women there, and since the beginning, in my organization, we decided to do demonstrations, to do campaigns, to make petitions, and to see whatever is needed.  And it started with speaking out against the human trafficking of women, and we were the first to demonstrate.  It was a few months after the [March 2003] beginning of the war—in August 2003—we started that.  But later on, our work was mainly on sheltering women from honor killings, and also on seeking out the reports of women’s trafficking, and later on in the last two years we found out—especially after the breakout of the scandal at the Abu Ghraib prison, we found out that it is very important to have a presence in all the women’s prisons and see what’s happening there.  So, we managed to become regular visitors to the central prison—it’s called Khadamiyah, a women’s prison, and we interviewed all the women in there, and we found out terrible things happening before they reached the prison.  Six of them, actually, spoke out about being assaulted, about being raped, some of them serially raped by the staff of the police station before they reached the prison.  So, we decided:  This is a program that we will have to pursue immediately.  And the surprise here is that most of this work we do with very minimal funding—mostly depending on volunteer work. 


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Anderson:  How did the onset of the Iraq war change things for Iraqi women, specifically?  I would imagine that there would be an increase in particular forms of oppression and violence once things became more volatile and uncertain. ...

Mohammed:  Well, although people on this part of the world think that Iraqi women are liberated, actually, we have lost all of the achievements or all the status that we used to have.  It is no longer safe to leave your house and get groceries.  We’re not speaking here about a young woman trying to reach the university, because that is beginning to get too difficult.  We’re not speaking here about women who are trying to go back and forth to work and even those of my friends who do that already because they have to—many of the police at work are being killed for sectarian reasons.  So, you have to witness all sorts of atrocities just going back and forth to work, and if there is this new [policy] of Sunni and Shiite, checking all the IDs of people, you leave the house and you do not guarantee that you come back safe. 

Anderson:  And I know that the markets are one particular target for bombers—repeated targets for bombers—when people are just trying to shop and go about their business.

Mohammed:  Well, all the districts of Baghdad have witnessed bombing, and it’s like the bombings move from one neighborhood to the other every month, so ... I moved my residence from one place to another, but I found out they’re all unsafe. 

Anderson:  What is your hope now for your organization—to move into new areas of social and political concern?  Or are you going to keep building up what you’re working on now? 

Mohammed:  Actually, we always try to be ahead of the atrocities happening.  It started with sheltering; then, it extended to the matter of the trafficking of women. The third thing is that we went into the prisons and we are watching for women’s self-esteem to be respected in there.  And finally we found out that if you do not put women’s rights in context, you have done nothing.  So, we have started a youth initiative where we are inviting youth from the Sunni and the Shiite areas and making poetry events where we tell them: “The subject matter of the event is about women, is about love, is about hope,” and we are witnessing very good results—that the youth do not want to be recruited for a civil war, do not want to kill each other, but there are very few alternatives for them out there, and the few democrat, seculars and outspoken women aren’t really supported.  This is the reason that I visit L.A. and speak to our friends at the Feminist Majority Foundation and Ms. Magazine, trying to seek support so we can survive as a project and as a voice, because, surprisingly, this war on Iraq brought all the support for the fundamentalists, for the extremists, who are new in the country, who are not the original people of the country, and they made them strong against us—the women and the freedom-loving people of Iraq.

Anderson:  Besides the mistaken notion that women in Iraq are enjoying more freedom now than before the beginning of the current war, which tends to be a party line over here, what other misconceptions about what’s going on in actuality in Iraq do you feel you could disabuse us of on this end?

Mohammed:  Well, the myth of democracy has killed already half a million Iraqis, and if it were giving us real democracy, where people are represented according to their political affiliations or their economic understanding or their social justice affiliations, that would have been understood.  But the way Iraqis are represented is according to their religion and their ethnicities.  It is as if the U.S. administration is trying to tell the whole world that Iraqis are not entitled to political understanding or political activity.  The political formula that was forwarded to us is a total insult for a part of the world where the politics are very much thriving and all kinds of politics—with the dawn of the war, thousands of political parties have registered.  And they all wanted to be competing, or let’s say running into democracy, but who was empowered, who was supported?  It’s mostly the religious and mostly the ethnic groups, and the women’s groups?  The U.S. administration wasn’t really interested to speak to, let’s say, free women’s groups.  They preferred to bring decorative factors to the parliament, where they look like women, but they all voted for a constitution that is against women.  And the constitution at this moment has imposed Shariah law upon us, when in the times before the war we had more of a secular constitution that respected women’s rights.  So, it’s one more thing lost for this war. 

Anderson:  Can you respond to the claims made by U.S. politicians talking about how well the reconstruction efforts in Iraq are going?

Mohammed:  Well, you know, the billions of dollars that we hear should have reached Iraq and been spent for the reconstruction—well, we don’t see any reconstruction.  Whatever they have tried to construct, like the electricity generators and water supply and all of that—they have been blown away by the resistance over and over again, so they stopped doing those. 

Anderson:  Those are particular targets for the resistance?

Mohammed:  Yes, yes, because they do not like to see the country run in the American way.  So, the answer here is that it cannot be solved by money.  There is a political issue to be solved, and later on the reconstruction follows.  We’re not saying that money should not be spent on the reconstruction, but the political issues have really stopped, and there is absolutely no communication, and all of the solutions are reaching a dead end.  So, all talk of reconstruction is nonsense at this point.  We have not seen any buildings reconstructed in Iraq.  I wonder what they’re talking about.

Anderson:  And the utilities are, at this point, shot?

Mohammed:  Nothing!  We get electricity one hour in the morning and one hour at night, and in the last two days there was no electricity.  We did not see any new buildings built, unless they are inside the Green Zone, where we cannot see them.

Anderson:  And there was a wall being constructed in April. ...

Mohammed:  Not one wall—there are 10 layers of concrete walls that we have to be searched over and over until we reach the Green Zone.  So, maybe there is some reconstruction in there, but I’ve been there and I haven’t seen really much.  So where are these billions going?  I have no answer, but I think they are going somewhere else. 


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By Changhe Yu, March 15, 2011 at 9:47 pm Link to this comment
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The followings are important truths about China you should know.
1. Marshal Lin Biao, Lin Biao’s wife Ye Qun and Lin Biao’s only son Lin Liguo were not died in September 13, 1971; Lin Biao had been the real No.2 of China since October 22, 1977.
In 2001 Lin Biao’s only son immigrated into Toronto, Ontario Canada, but he changed his name into Zhou Weiqi.
2. In 1972, the US President Richard Nixon visited China and talked with Mao Zedong, but that guy was a fake, in other words, President Nixon had never met the real Mao Zedong in his whole life but only one or more fakes.
3. In August 1975, Mao Zedong secretly ordered a few guys to clawed Banqiao reservoir which located in the south part of Henan province, killed at least 300,000 Chinese people. Lin Biao claimed he would do a big thing, then Chair Mao killed more than 3 hundred thousand Chinese and counted as what Lin Biao did, but actually it was not a success, that’s why Chairman Mao did another big thing in the next year and counted as Lin biao ‘s big thing, not very success but it was ok.
4. The so-called Tangshan earthquake is 100% lie, it is nuclear test ! Two H-bombs were detonated one after another.
Hu Zengjue, the dad of current Chinese President Hu Jintao, firstly detonated one H-bomb in Fengnan County which located in the southwest of Tangshan city. Lots of people know this nuclear test, Hu Yaobang (several years later became the General Secretary of Chinese Communist Party), Deng Xiaoping etc. participated in the first nuclear test.
As soon as Hu Jintao’s father had detonated an H-bomb in fengnan county, then 4 guys detonated another H-bomb secretly in Tangshan Mine, it was the most powerful H-bomb China had in 1976. The 4 guys are Li Peng, Zhou Yongkang, Qiao Shi and Jiang Zemin. Years later Li Peng became Chinese Prime Minister and then became the Chairman of National People’ Congress of China, Qiao Shi was Chairman of National People’s Congress of China, and Jiang Zemin became Chinese President and General Secretary of CCP.
They killed almost half one million Chinese! Thousands of children lost their parents, and thousands of families had lost each of its life (nobody alive).
5. Chairman Mao was not died on September 9, 1976, it was only a fake died.
A few months later after US Army bombed Chinese Embassy in Yugoslavia, Mao Zedong was really died and was buried at the foot of Himalayas Mountain.
6. There are totally 10 thousand Chinese people participated in the nuclear test hold by Chairman Mao and their main purpose was just to killed thousands of thousands Chinese and then successfully counted as the big thing Marshal Lin biao claimed to do.
7. Since the nuclear test which happened on July 28, 1976, the main powers (especially the most important power) of China have always been in the hands of guys who had ever participated in the nuclear test or his or her main relatives had ever participated in the two nuclear tests.
In other words, from July 1976 up to now the main leaders of CCP were always and are the main killer or the main relatives of the main killers.

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By Nesreen, June 13, 2007 at 6:33 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

saddam had his faults (some exagerated by the US) but he was secular and protected the christians in iraq (who are now fleeing iraq to syria and jordan )

he eradicated Illettracy in 1982 , something still unheard of in the rest of the arab world (saudi women were allowed to go to school for the first time only in the late 70s )  Islam says Education is a must for both male and female 1400 years ago. the first thing we learn in islam : READ , read in the name of your lord .

but the religious fanatics we have right now in governemtn (AL DAWA and SCIRI etc..) are knocking on doors and asking women to cover up . happening daily in basra . shops are asked to remove certain things and posters . a girl was killed while with a boyfriend in a picnic by people who worked for the government . the people in gov are thieves who employ Death squads and miitias . welcome to chaos in iraq where hundreds of scientiss have been targeted and killed so iraq goes back hundreds years .(Mossad heavily involved too )

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By Nesreen, June 13, 2007 at 6:25 am Link to this comment
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Scott Daniel on 5/20

Iraqi women had rights in 1959 law , when saudi women could not go to school yet . (until the late 70s) women dressed as they wanted , mostly in western clothes in the 60s and 70s , christian iraqis had no problem (until now )
The UNESCO congratulated Saddam for almost eradicating Illettracy (in 1983 , easily googled) and the Health Organisation said the same thing about the excellent health care in Iraq compared to the WHOLE Arab world . but all this was ignored for Lies the neocons fabricated . Please please see the pictures on MAY 2nd 2006

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By Toby, May 28, 2007 at 9:32 am Link to this comment
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Like it or not the simple truth is, Saddam Hussein was able to unite the majority of his people under one government, guarantee women equal rights and keep the “extreme religious” leaders from controlling the government and the country.

Perhaps he used force to meet that goal, but he achieved that goal none the less. In spite of the Gulf war, in spite of all the sickness from Depleted Uranium, in spite of twelve years of sanctions, women had equal opportunity, everyone received education. They had one of the highest standards of living in the area. And one of the highest rates of college graduates.

Then along comes the “extreme religious” leaders from the West. Guns blazing, riding in like John Wayne to deliver their version of democracy to a people who, we decided, needed to be democratized. Well the neo-con version of “The Texacan” did what they are becoming so well known for. They reduced a high standard to the lowest possible. Killed more people than anyone can count, and made a lot of money for their buddies in the process.

Here in the land of the free and the brave in case you hadn’t noticed, women who have the bad fortune to be born into a family dominated by “extreme religious” views are also used and abused and discriminated against as second class citizens.

No, really?
Yes really.

No matter what a “holy man” may wear, or how many committed followers he has. When it comes right down to it, they are all the same. So, why on earth is anybody surprised?

Now we marvel that women in Iraq, once treated as equals are used and abused and discriminated against like second class citizens. Not to mention living in constant fear!

And now that “extreme religious” groups are fighting to control the people we “liberated” we’re scratching our heads wondering what to do.

Well for starters we should kick the “extreme religious” leaders in our country out of Washington DC. They have absolutely no business trying to grab control of the peoples government! They can’t even agree with each other on what’s right and what’s wrong. What on earth makes them think they can run a country?

Would that bring peace to the Middle East?


There will never be peace in the Middle East as long as men chose to take the name of God in vain and use it to justify control over those who might choose otherwise.

Ditto here.
Ditto everywhere.

We allow fighting fructuous greedy men to play God. Until we put them back in their boxes and keep them there, we will have no peace. Here or anywhere else in the world.

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By shz, May 26, 2007 at 10:47 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Democracy is a good idea which has yet to be fully expressed in the US.  Why would we think we could impose it on Iraq?

I met a Sunni man from Iraq and asked him how things were before the war.  He had no use for Hussein, but said things ran well, the population was educated and employed, and women were as free there as women are in the US.

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By Verne Arnold, May 26, 2007 at 8:53 am Link to this comment

#70772 by Dr. Knowitall, PhD, PhD on 5/18 at 4:49 am

Thanks and I agree with your comment; propaganda bullshit is all too common and the “people swallow it completely”!

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By MLMrev, May 24, 2007 at 7:58 pm Link to this comment
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“You cannot break all the chains, except one.  You cannot say you want to be free of exploitation and oppression, except you want to keep the oppression of women by men.  You can’t say you want to liberate humanity yet keep one half of the people enslaved to the other half.  The oppression of women is completely bound up with the division of society into masters and slaves, exploiters and exploited, and the ending of all such conditions is impossible without the complete liberation of women.  All this is why women have a tremendous role to play not only in making revolution but in making sure there is all-the-way revolution. The fury of women can and must be fully unleashed as a mighty force for proletarian revolution.”

Engage with the works of Bob Avakian!

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By Hammo, May 24, 2007 at 3:15 pm Link to this comment

When we look at the problems in gender relations, discrimination and related kinds of problems in our society, we might note that in other societies, gender and sexuality issues are even more problematic.

Take a look at:

“Make love, not jihad: PSYOP, OSINT efforts should tackle repression of romance”

The Muckraker Report
May 24, 2007

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By Don melchiori, May 22, 2007 at 11:57 am Link to this comment
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A must read for every american.
Blackwater-the rise of the world’s most powerful mercenary army by jeremy scahill.

We have been kept in the dark by the media and the administration. read about the true facts of Iraq.
You will be astonished believe me.  See where the money is going, the killings, the stupidity of the Bush administration in Washington.
You owe it to yourself, if not to our young men being killed to become educated. Please read this book.

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By lester g, May 22, 2007 at 10:02 am Link to this comment
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By Frances Colares, May 22, 2007 at 6:38 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I am an old Brasilian old lady and I agree with what a winner Oscar (I dont remember his name)when Bush invaded Iraq, THAT IS A WRONG WAR IN A WRONG PLACE AT A WRONG TIME. I was living in California at that time.

Bush made to the American a great harm. After 9/11,  he promissed Americans that he was going to smoke Bin Laden out of his cave. But instead of that, he and Cheney destroid 3 countries that had done America no harm.

I do really love American people.  I have goods friends in America and I feel very sorry for them.

WHERE IS BIN LADEN, Mr. President GWBush?

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By Michael Boldin, May 21, 2007 at 11:48 am Link to this comment

Yet another example of the horrors of war - why the use of force never ever works to solve foreign policy problems.

This war is creating an absolute nightmare, both legally and morally, for everyone involved.  The troubles that women are experiencing, the destruction of property and life, and the ever-increasing power of the federal government here at home are to be expected when we give politicians the power to use war around the world…..

The time to get out of Iraq is now.  Not next fall and not next year.  Now.

Some reading on this:

“Top Ten Reasons to Get out of Iraq. Now!”

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By Scott Daniel, May 20, 2007 at 9:00 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I am absoluely aghast that women thourgout the Middle East suffer deeply by not even being able to enjoy basic human rights - to dress as they wish, to drive cars, to enjoy equal legal and moral treatment etc.

It is totally unaccelptable to me that the US government just allows this to happen, that our country is willing to dialoge with countires where women are ‘sub-class’ citizens…..
I truly and honestly say that the Women of the planet should put men in cages and let them out when they behoave. Am I the only one who notices that males do 98 % of the war and crime ????

sincerily, Scott Daniel

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By Nitro, May 20, 2007 at 3:14 pm Link to this comment

Well, keep believing the “lip movement” by the Bushit administration, and we’ll be the next ones paying the price for “Bushit’s Democratic Policies.

Personal Opinion?... I think the world was a better place when we had Sadaam Hussein as Iraq’s leader, and Bushit still a wanna be President.

Guess this puts a whole new curve on “Being careful what you wish for !”

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By dsmith, May 19, 2007 at 5:57 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Can you imagine a half million Jews being killed as the result of an invasion by the US. Steven Spielberg would be rushing into production as we speak with another Jews Are Victims movie and the Jewish victims would be filing lawsuits. Let the US military offer $2,000 as compensation to an Israeli and see how far they get.

Since these are non-whites who are killing each other in a civil war there seems to be little concern that over 650,000 Iraqi men, women and children are dead, again due to the invasion by Bush and his neocon handlers.

You would think Bush, knowing he and Wolfowitz caused so much misery, might feel just a tad guilty since thier premise for the invasion was totally bogus, but not these warmongers, they now want Iran to become the next disaster, paid with lives of innocent Iranians and US servicemen.

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By 911truthdotorg, May 18, 2007 at 1:30 pm Link to this comment

Last night on CNN I saw the video of that beautiful 17 yr old girl being stoned to death by those horrible, disgusting barbarians, and I almost threw up.

Her crime? Being seen with a Sunni.

The Middle East is a cesspool - and we’re
drowning in it.

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By jonathan, May 18, 2007 at 12:49 pm Link to this comment

It is perfectly clear to all intelligent people that Democracy is the name of a preferred form of government that “in effect” is constantly failing us.(USA) (and much more in Iraq)
We (USA) are governed by the whims of a Jewish coalition & (The illegal, unconstitutional Federal Reserve Board).
Therefore; America is more a theocracy than a true Democracy.
Having said this; I leave it to those who have understanding and understand.

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By QuyTran, May 18, 2007 at 10:16 am Link to this comment

Very bad propaganda made by stupid intentions. The way to democracy wasn’t as easy as Bush/Cheney think tanks thought. Democracy and freedom, the real ones, have to buy with hardship, blood, tears…and of course not a picture showing inked fingers of several women after voting in the so-called new democracy’s election. Perhaps these women have been paid off for this dirt-cheap propaganda.

Money is god, but at the same time will be devil !

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By Jeanine Molloff, May 18, 2007 at 8:53 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This is a sad commentary not only on Iraq, but also on the consequences incurred when a corporate press constitutes the ‘mainstream press.’  Had a vital and real press been in existence; these atrocities committed by our government wouldn’t have happened.  This woman is a true hero, and she has my total admiration and respect.  SHE should be the President of Iraq.  As a result of this article; I intend to step up my political activities—like her—speaking truth to power.  More importantly, we have to get the truth out to the average citizen here in the states so more pressure can be brought to bear on our disgraceful congress.  God bless this wonderful teacher.

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By, May 18, 2007 at 8:23 am Link to this comment

Back in March, MADRE put together an interesting report that looked at both how the war has affected Iraqi women and US women serving in the military. It makes a good companion piece to this article:

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By Dr. Knowitall, PhD, PhD, May 18, 2007 at 5:49 am Link to this comment

Verne, actually, I think you were eloquent in your comment.  I would have referred to the “PC rhetoric crap” as typical US government propaganda bullshit that all too many of us are all too eager to swallow.

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By Verne Arnold, May 18, 2007 at 4:24 am Link to this comment

As a recovering feminist I’m tired of the normal PC rhetoric crap…but this…this is the real thing.  Many years ago (1991) a very intelligent guy named Michael Perrenti talked about Iraq on NPR. (Just as we were invading…April Gillespie, remember that name?  U.S. Ambassador).

If one only listened to the mainstream media one would conclude Saddam Hussain was at least equal to Hitler.

Perenti gave facts and figures about women, children, health, education, and the general state of existence in Iraq as compared to the rest of the Middle-East, most notably Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

In Iraq, children didn’t go hungry, women were educated, families had health care.  Sharia law didn’t apply.  It was a secular government. 

If you want to know the general state of a country find out how it treats women and children…this is the measure of a countries health.
I don’t even want to hear…so…you think Hussein was a good guy?
This is about what we have done and the present state of affairs.
This article says it very eloquently even if I haven’t.

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