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The backslash avoids any 'rm' alias that might be present and runs the 'rm' command in $PATH instead.
In a misguided attempt to be more "friendly", some Linux distributions (or sites/etc.) alias 'rm' to 'rm -i'. Unfortunately, this trains users to expect that files won't actually be deleted until they okay it. This expectation will fail with catastrophic results when they use other distributions, move to other sites, etc., and doesn't really even work 100% even with the alias. It's too late to fix 'rm', but '\rm' should work everywhere (under bash).
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