Sunday, October 16, 2005

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Open Iraq constitution thread

Comment away on the implications of the Iraqi vote on its constitution.

Condi Rice is apparently pleased:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Sunday that initial assessments indicate Iraqis had probably approved a controversial constitution, although the turnout alone showed the fragile new political process has taken hold despite a deadly insurgency.

"There's a belief that it has probably passed," Rice told reporters traveling with her, based on people in Iraq who are seeing preliminary vote tallies. At least 63 percent of Iraqis voted Saturday, she said, an increase of about 1 million voters over the first democratic election in January for a transitional government. Much of that increase, she said, comes from the higher participation of Iraq's minority Sunni Muslims.

The violence also was lower and produced fewer lethal attacks than in January's vote, she noted.

The constitution requires a simple majority to be approved, unless two-thirds of voters in three of Iraq's 18 provinces voted against it. Then the constitution would not pass and Iraqi leaders would be forced to draft a new document to be submitted to voters.

News services from Baghdad reported Sunday that early returns suggested large numbers of voters rejected the constitution in the Sunni strongholds of Anbar and Salahuddin provinces. But according to initial results, Sunni voters may not have been able to reach the two-thirds threshold in Diyala province east of Baghdad or in Nineveh province in the north, where Sunnis also have large representation.

Disputes over the constitution have been intense and threatened to deepen the religious and ethnic divide right up to the Saturday vote. But Rice said the turnout sends a strong signal to insurgents that the political process is "alive and well."

"What [the referendum] will certainly help to do is to broaden the base of the political process," she said, and diminish the influence of those supporting violence.

"Ultimately, insurgencies have to be defeated politically. You defeat them by sapping them of their political support, and increasingly Iraqis are throwing their support behind the political process, not behind the violence," she said on the last stop of her week-long tour of Central Asia, Afghanistan and Europe.

There's a lot riding on that last paragraph.

posted by Dan on 10.16.05 at 12:00 PM


Fashionable though it is to emphasize the thought that insurgencies have political solutions, we need to consider the possibility that this particular insurgency may have objectives the majority of Iraqis cannot live with.

I would like to believe that good-faith efforts to give Iraq's Sunni Arabs a voice in their government, a reasonable share of oil revenues, and employment for a fair number of lower-ranking former Baathists would "sap the political support" of the insurgency. It may happen; I hope it does. Frankly, those, these are the kind of concessions that seem fair to us. Sunni Arabs in Iraq, used to having their leaders make all the decisions for everyone else in the country, and bitterly resentful that this is no longer true, may not agree.

There cannot be any question that the Sunni Arab-dominated insurgency has increased support among Iraq's Shiites and Kurds for greater autonomy from Baghdad. It has weakened those Shiites who would prefer an Iraq not subservient to Tehran; it has strengthened those who seek first safety and later political influence by building up sectarian militias. Ambassdor Khalilzad, with the best of intentions, cannot change this dynamic. Only Sunni Arabs can do that.

At some point, if the insurgency and its violence against Shiites and Kurds continues unabated, offers to give Iraq's Sunni Arabs a role in the new government will be withdrawn. Other Iraqis will eventually become even less willing than American Marines to distinguish between Sunni Arabs who plant bombs and pull triggers and those unwilling to fight them. Some commentary in this country has depicted the political process in Iraq to be at risk from Shiite and Kurdish instransigence. That is not only wrong; it will be strongly felt to be wrong by most Shiite and Kurdish Iraqis. Sunni Arabs in Iraq, of course, see themselves as victims, even as insurgents continue to blow up civilians and gun down police recruits. Changes in this position will be the metric by which other Iraqis gauge whether the insurgency is being sapped of support, and if changes are not forthcoming we can already see what some of the reaction will be.

posted by: Zathras on 10.16.05 at 12:00 PM [permalink]

Once again the Iraqis have shown a readiness to at least engage the democratic process.

Figures have been fluctuating in the media, but the latest figure courtesy of the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq puts the vote as high as 11 million. This is roughly 70% of registered voters. Impressive by N. American standards. Astoundingly in Saddam’s home town, Tikrit, the showing was 78%!!

It is true that the Sunnis were given some incentive to turn out, since in a last minute effort, Shia and Kurdish leaders offered a number of key revisions.

A “yes” vote seems certain and will likely lead to elections in December. However I am skeptical that this will result in the drawing down of U.S. troops in the region. I think those who think that a Constitutional settlement will hasten the demise of the insurgency are being overly optimistic. Despite Sunni participation in this vote, many are deeply cynical and regard the political process as a trap. The prospect of independence for the Shia in the south and the Kurds in the north, both oil rich regions, leaves the Sunni holding the short end of the stick; doubtless an unpleasant experience for the former aristocracy of Iraq.

I found it ironical that the Constitutional revisions agreed to yesterday included a re-wording of terms that excluded former Baathists from playing central roles in government. Ironical given the chronic lack of political savvy displayed by the Americans when they basically went a-hunting for all the Baathist leadership, with the faces of the wanted emblazoned on a deck of cards. This was a dumb move. Not all in Baathist leadership circles were Chemical Alis, and it would have made a lot more sense for the Americans to have worked on forging a strategic relationship with the Sunnis, rather than publicly demonize their leaders in this provocative fashion.

Such tactics coupled with the moral idiocy exhibited in Abhu Ghraib has helped to fan the insurgency. Constitutional deal making won’t put out the fires that have been ignited. Zarqawri and co are going to have to be beaten in the field, preferably with the active involvement of new Iraqi recruits. The central objection of the insurgents isn’t to the absence of a good deal, it’s to democracy plain and simple ... and that’s a position that doesn’t lend itself to negotiation.

posted by: Aidan Maconachy on 10.16.05 at 12:00 PM [permalink]

Although I hate to admit it, Bush's bulldog determination to press on through the quagmire of post-victory Iraq seems to be making progress. Slow excruciating progress, but progress none the less.

However, the real test will come when the US military backbone which is propping up the Iraqi state starts to leave. Only then will we see if Mideast regime change is realistic.

posted by: Chris Albon on 10.16.05 at 12:00 PM [permalink]

It's also become fashionable to speak of "Sunnis" or "Shias" as distinct, corporate entities, with the "Sunnis" typically cast as the unrepentant minority, addicted to unreasonable demands and fantasies of past dominance. But Iraqis are people, not amoebas, and while it may be appropriate, given Kurdish history, to speak of Kurds as a seperate nation, that kind of language is inappropriate to the Shi'a/Sunni split, especially in a country which, by Middle Eastern standards, is highly secularized. When Westerners speak of the "Sunni insurgency," they mean the core group of Baathists, Jihadis, and tribal clients (Tikritis, Jibouris, &c) of the Saddam regime, those which nothing will satisfy except turning the clock back to 2003. The rest of the Sunni population provides varying degrees of protection and support, but almost nothing in the way of political direction. Given their lack of political representation, and given the thin American presence on the ground, they may feel they have no alternative (and those that express feelings to the contrary in public are quickly dispatched).

Still, it shouldn't be too much to suggest thst the overwhelming majority of Sunni Arabs may be won away from the insurgency provided a couple of basic political preconditions are met.

1) The country be kept whole. Commentators have made much of the fact that Iraq's Sunni provinces would be left with few oil reserves in any autonomy scheme; this is probably part of it, but Sunnis really despise the plan because they (correctly) see it as a thinly veiled plot to break part of the country off into an Arab theocratic republic under Iranian tutelage. Arabs -- and not just Sunnis, but most Shia as well -- have a great deal invested in their identity as Iraqis, despite all the nonsense spouted about Iraq's artificiality, as if that every other state in the Middle East had, as Leslie Gelb pretends, "natural borders."

2)Militia politics be ended. Power in Iraq is today bought through the force of arms. Insurgent groups kill Iraqi policemen and turn cities into no-go zones; other militias, like the Badr, simply inflitrate or intimidate them, with much the same effect. The various Sunni resistance groups, along with Sadr's Mahdi Army, are the only ones to have tangled with the US thus far, but every major political party in Iraq maintains an armed force to defend its followers, murder and terrorize its enemies, and secure its power. Sunnis will be reluctant to disarm as long as these groups remain active, and will probably rally if the US continues to 'outsource' its security work to groups which are little better than uniformed gangsters.

I don't know if the US has the wisdom to meet these conditions or the will to see them through, but the high turnout suggests that the Sunni Arab community is not monolithic and that the US is making strong inroads there. With elections scheduled for December, the US may be in a position to cash in on its progress. In the meantime, it behooves those following the Iraqi situation to avoid speaking in exclusively sectarian terms. If that's the legacy we leave Iraq, we've failed, no matter what the political process.

posted by: Raphael on 10.16.05 at 12:00 PM [permalink]

What the world needs now is other countries to step in and start share the burden of this war with the US. Otherwise Iraq is likely to be abandoned by the US in the near future. Growing US public aversion to war and economic costs point at that direction.
I was one of those who opposed unilateral action by the US, but I also know that opposing US before the occupation and now are two different things. Unfortunately this is not the case for most of the world. Even if policy-makers in other countries know that the situation is different, it will be hard for them to persuade their constituencies.
In short, no one in their right mind would want to see the US fail in Iraq, but democratic leaders may not be able to do what is best for their people, because the people will not appreciate the decision.

posted by: Kerim Can on 10.16.05 at 12:00 PM [permalink]

Well we turned the corner with the capture of Saddam

Then we turned the corner with the handover to the provisional Iraqi government

Then we turned a third corner with the parliamentary elections

Finally we have turned this forth corner.

Of course turning four corners just means you've driven around the block.

1976 American dead later

posted by: Mitchell Young on 10.16.05 at 12:00 PM [permalink]

The problem with taking a negative approach to these developments in Iraq and always seeing the downside, is to miss the central truth that this is a region in transition, and without this necessary transition we could all be in deep trouble.

Nuclear technology has moved out of the cold war context and is now in the possession of states who aren't reliably stable; states with security arrangements that leave much to be desired. It's just a matter of time until this technology finds its way into the hands of people who would like to use it to achieve terrorist goals.

When the world becomes more dangerous than we would like to conceive, I would much rather not have the Middle East serving as the primary
residence for dictators and religious nutbars, some of whom are avowedly anti-Jewish and proponents of the the total destruction of Israel.

So I think this American effort transcends many of the objections raised by its detractors. This enormous struggle and sacrifice by America, has been misrepresented, villified and virtually cast as criminal. George Bush has become the scapegoat for every finger pointer and nay sayer around the globe. However in my opinion, there is something truly amazing at work here that is being overlooked. The saying "God moves in mysterious ways his wonders to perform" can also be applied to history. Civilization it could be argued, has progressed on the back of war. War has essentially been the engine of change and progress. When you look more deeply into the the ramifications of this Iraq war for the region, you find a surprising sea change under way.

Recently I watched a debate on BBC world from the Middle East - part of the "Hard Talk" series that took place in Qatar. I was impressed by the english fluency displayed by the Muslim women who stepped up to the mike in traditional Arab dress (how many of us can speak even a word of Arabic?). Their grace and deeply held convictions about the state of their culture and region was impressive. In every case when it came to a vote, the numbers were on the side of the values of freedom and equality; values that are struggling against the odds to emerge in a part of the world that has long been host to tyranny.

I would argue that the views expressed in these debates, the sense of an emerging new order in the region, would have been entirely absent, if this invasion hadn't taken place. Even for those in the region not directly effected, the sight of a legendary tyrant falling along with his empire had profound repercussions that went far beyond the political. It impacted the collective psyche of the region in a most profound way, and has compelled re-assessments across the board.

There is so much that is emerging that is encouraging. For example, in a recent article for Vanity Fair, Christopher Hitchens spoke of visiting the holy city of Qom in Iran, where he met with the grandson of the late Ayatollah Khomenei, one Hossein Khomenei (a cleric in his own right). This Shi'ite leader said these remarkable words to Hitchens :

"Only the free world led by America can bring democracy to Iran."

Since the invasion we have seen Mohammar Quadaffi disarm and take his country along a more peaceful course; we have seen a elections in Saudi Arabia; the retreat of Syrian forces from Lebanon, where there is now a burgeoning democratic movement (the same is true in Egypt). These developments are unheard of and could never have come about without this courageous intervention on the part of the U.S.A.

So while I agree that there has been bungling, inefficiencies, not to say plain stupidity in the way this campaign was handled, I would still argue that there is something of huge significance happening here, that will help in the end to move civilization forward and secure our world against threats from terror and tyranny.

You know, I don't think the moral debt to the world's oppressed and starving begins and ends with foreign aid. I think we have a moral obligation to use our arms in a positive and pro-active fashion in support of emerging democratic movements. Let's face it, many of the medical and economic problems faced by people around the world is directly attributable to corrupt government. By helping to empower the peoples of these nations, we are handing them a gift greater than bread or coin, we are handing them the keys to their own freedom.

I find it ironical that France is the cradle of the Revolution of 1789. This was a Revolution that triggered a great surge of the human spirit in its quest for freedom. It overthrew the oppressive Ancien Regime and reverberated so powerfully around the world, that its effects led to the toppling of governments and the creation of a new order. These days it seems, the country that gave birth to this revolutionary zeitgeist is more keen to prop up tyrants and negotiate self-serving "arrangements".

All of the accusations levelled at America, notably those that flow from the pen of arch-detractors such as Noam Chomsky, do not take away from the central truth that America is a catalyst for global transformation. You can argue the pros and cons of that and question American motives etc. But this central truth has to be recognized.

What disappoints me is the eagerness of many Americans to trash these efforts. The tendency to demonize their own and point only to the negatives and obstacles. Hitchens put it well in reference to the recent anti-war rallies across America. He had this to say ...

"Was there a single placard saying, "No to Jihad"? Of course not. Or a single placard saying, "Yes to Kurdish self-determination" or "We support Afghan women's struggle"? Don't make me laugh."

posted by: Aidan Maconachy on 10.16.05 at 12:00 PM [permalink]

"Of course turning four corners just means you've driven around the block."

To believe we have made no progress and are no better off than the day we invaded is to be willfully blind. Its simply untenable by basically any metric. 200,000 Iraqi troops, 70% voting, a new constitution, nationwide elections by the end of the year that all sects will participate in, Shiia and Kurd areas mainly stable, all the infastructure improvements. To say we have done nothing is as crazy as saying we are victorious already.

"1976 American dead later"

Have we ever taken that many casualties in a war before? For the record, we lost 6054 dead and wounded in the Battle of Kasserine Pass in WW2 alone. Not our bloodiest land battle of the war by far, just _the first_. I can only imagine what people like you were saying after that little number.

We have fought and conquered 2 nations in 5 years and incurred less casualties than a single day at Antietam. We have provided both with democratic governments and real constitutions for the first time in their histories. The staggering enormity of what a success this could be if it holds makes your complaints seem utterly petty. Every life is precious, and i mourn every soldier wounded or killed, but to think these things could be done with zero casualties or whatever impossible standard you seem to require is just pointless. By any historical standard, what we have done to date is unprecidented, the Vietnam fixation of the anti-war folks not withstanding.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 10.16.05 at 12:00 PM [permalink]

"Yes to Kurdish self-determination"

Well, I am all for it, and it existed under the 'no-fly zone' policy. Heck, I am for extending it into Turkey , let's do that shall we. Let's invade Turkey so Kurds can determine themselves.

And Buehner, how old are you? 'Cuz if your under forty, I'd have thought you'd have suited up by now to die for the old patria, or rather for someone else's patria, to be #1977 so to speak-- you're so pysched at these casualty figures from WWII. Thanatos, man, maybe Freud was right.

posted by: Mitchell Young on 10.16.05 at 12:00 PM [permalink]

Hate to burst your bubble here Mark, in part since I would have been on your side in January: I was one of the people who was very positive about the Iraq vote in January, regularly shooting down the ultra-leftie talking heads who kept trying to toss cold water on it. I still think that overall, despite the continuation of the insurgency, the January election was helpful to Iraq. This Constitutional referendum OTOH was a disaster and presages a massive escalation of the insurgency.

The fundamental problem: The Sunni Arabs in this election *did* give the political process a chance, voting overwhelmingly against the Constitution in Iraq. Unlike in January, they decided to put down their guns, at least for a day, and use ballots rather than bullets. However, the "2/3 nullification rule" in 3 provinces stacked the deck against them ridiculously, and to make matters worse, there's widespread belief of voter fraud in both Nineveh and Diyala provinces. Nineveh has a large Sunni Arab majority, plus hundreds of thousands of Sunni Turkoman people who are burning with resentment at the US-led attacks on Tal Afar-- and yet the vote there was 75% in favor of the Constitution? When 95+% of the Sunnis (who had high turnout in Mosul) were planning to vote against the Constitution? C'mon. I'm not automatically negative but this is flat-out ridiculous, there's more than a little ballot stuffing, double voting or other funny business going on in Nineveh.

The problem here is that despite all the media attention focused on the massive Sunni-led insurgency, in fact only a small minority of the Sunni Arabs (and Sadrist Shiites, for that matter) have actually been participating in the insurgency. Most people were at least willing to give the political process a chance. But now, the insurgent leaders' claims have essentially been confirmed for them-- that their participation in the political process gains them nothing, and that the deck is stacked against them.

There were essentially three possible results from the referendum: 1. Massive Sunni Arab support for the Constitution (the best possibility, though obviously quite unlikely), 2. a massive Sunni boycott (bad, but at least one could toss this back in the face of the Sunni leaders, saying they didn't participate), or 3. massive Sunni participation in the referendum with the vast majority of votes against the Constitution, but the Constitution passes anyway, in the teeth of this opposition-- by far the worst result, and the one that we've got, with the added anger caused by accusations of fraud. The result now is that the vast bulk of the Sunni population, the moderates and the people who don't care much for all the rabid mouth-foaming of al-Zarqaqi, are going to have the perception that the democratic process holds out nothing for them, and they'll believe that only violent resistance works, just as the insurgents have been claiming to them.

If you think that somehow this vote would allow the rest of the population (the Shiites and Kurds) to unify to strike back at the Sunnis, then you're stuck in even greater delusions. The Shiites and Kurds have refrained from attacking the Sunni Arabs not out of the goodness of their hearts, but because frankly, the Sunnis have drawn the short straw as far as their territory is concerned. The Shiites and Kurds both sit on the oil-rich land, and what they want most is a formal *separation* from the Sunni lands so that they can hold the oil wealth for themselves. The last thing they want to do is to shed their own blood to hold onto the vast, relatively resource-poor scrublands of Anbar or Diyala. It's the *Sunnis* who've been most intent at having a centralized, unified Iraq, since they'd be deprived of most of the oil wealth otherwise.

Moreover, the Shiites and Kurds are at best suspicious, at worst downright hostile to each other (witness the angry exchanges between Talabani and al-Jafaari a couple weeks ago), and the Shiites are hardly unified themselves. The Mehdi Army and the Badr Brigades are constantly at each other's throats, and if anything the most likely scenario for a civil war in the short term isn't between Sunnis and Shiites-- it's between rival Shiite tribes and militias, all bitterly trying to establish their control over the oil fields in the south of the country. The situation in Iraq is already ugly, and it's about to become even uglier, and quickly.

posted by: Rico on 10.16.05 at 12:00 PM [permalink]

Rico, plausible but how does that explain the Sunni Islamic Party's deal to vote yes (amongst others)? Lets wait till the vote is in in the Sunni provinces, im betting there will be more of a yes vote than is expected.
I happen to think exactly the opposite of your reasoning. Part of democracy means you dont always win, and even the Sunni will understand that. Its pretty obvious that they learned their lesson about boycotts as well. Come the next set of elections, the Sunnis will turn out and vote in mass and grab at least their fair share of power. They will quickly recognize the need to form strategic alliances with secular Shiia such as we have seen Chalabi brokering. You are suggesting because the Sunni cant have the whole loaf they will decide to commit virtual suicide by actively defying the Americans and growing Iraqi Army, and worse convincing the Kurds and Shiia they arent playing ball and inviting their occupation. Why would they do that? Once again this relies on the Sunni being completly irrational terror machines, undeterred by any level of death and uncompelled by any reasonable deal.

And Mitchell, havent you got anything better to troll than the old chicken hawk argument? I wont bother asking you why you didnt chain yourself to one of Saddam's tanks for your side. Better a chicken-hawk than a chicken-chicken.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 10.16.05 at 12:00 PM [permalink]

A "massive escalation of the insurgency" would require an massive escalation of manpower, training, and firepower, something the barely breathing insurgency sorely lacks at this moment. I would call it more properly a massive suicide charge, since the insurgency's ability to effectively make war on anything other than unarmed people standing around in a crowd is pretty much shot. What happens to this awesome insurgency if people just stay home? Perhaps they can throw rocks at tanks. This seems to work well for the Palestinians.

posted by: Don Mynack on 10.16.05 at 12:00 PM [permalink]

Apologia for the chickhawk argument.

I've thought a lot about it, and basically the 'chickenhawk' argument is about collective action and free riders. Chickenhawks are free riders. One of the few social sanctions against them is shaming them for shirking the costs of policies they advocates.

posted by: Mitchell Young on 10.16.05 at 12:00 PM [permalink]

Meaningless vote.

Nothing will change because there's no link
between the fighting and the political process
now at hand.

That's why the level of fighting stayed basically
the same as each old milestone was reached.

BTW---France has a democracy and Bush supporters
and war supporters hate France. Yet France's
democracy will always be better than whatever
Iraq can put together.

It's a meaningless constitution in a meaningless
exercise in human stupidity.

"....And the female society gets rooked again
by males who think they know what they are doing."

If you want to know if a society should be destroyed
see how that society treats the female part of that

Someone needs to go back in and completely take
control of Iraq.

Humans don't seem to be very good at the control
part...only the conquering destroying part.

But it is fun to watch....

posted by: James on 10.16.05 at 12:00 PM [permalink]

Hmm... freeriders. Kinda like those long in criticism but empty in solutions. I've seen the type.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 10.16.05 at 12:00 PM [permalink]

The Soviets lost fewer men overall in the whole Afghanistan war than they did on some days in WW-II. And yet -- the Afghanistan war still drained it and contributed mightily to its downfall.

Comparison with past casualty counts are silly. Its clear that the days of wholesale butchery seen in WW-I are over for democratic countries, thankfully so. Even dictatorships (see my example above of the SU) seem to find it hard to sustain these kinds of casualties.

What disappoints me is the eagerness of many Americans to trash these efforts. The tendency to demonize their own and point only to the negatives and obstacles.

Well, maybe Americans don't like being lied to. Even if Iraq turns into Denmark, the fact that this war was sold to the American people on the basis of a lie (links to Al Qaeada), and considerable exaggeration (WMDs) remains.

posted by: Masque on 10.16.05 at 12:00 PM [permalink]

I wont bother asking you why you didnt chain yourself to one of Saddam's tanks for your side. Better a chicken-hawk than a chicken-chicken.

A so-called chicken chicken is at least being consistent. He or she does not want to fight in this war either for the country or for himself or herself.

A chicken hawk, by contrast, is completely inconsistent. He is perfectly willing to come up with grandiose military schemes and let other people die to undertake them. In short, he's a coward and a hypocrite.
A chicken hawk is being essentially
The truth that should be apparent to anyone with a brain cell is that anyone who is opposed to the war is not on Saddam's side.
This is precisely the problem with the chickenhawks. Th

posted by: masque on 10.16.05 at 12:00 PM [permalink]

One problem with analysis of Iraq is that it focuses on the "insurgency." However with or without the formal rebellion simple crime probably kills as many people. Corruption is among the worst in the world. Economic growth has stagnated after taking off in the first year. Even without an insurgency there are many developing attributes of a "failed nation state."

Add to this Shiite militias power in the south and ties with Iran, influences which link to the central government. Many of the dubious votes we saw last week will occur in the December elections and if that fails thugs will override democracy.

The Sunni/insurgency problems are a fraction of the total. Failure to address the rest increases the odds that Iraq will be a disruptive influence.

And this will be strengthened by another factor that is usually ignored. Iraq is one member of a chaotic system known as the "mideast." The United States is desperate to placate Sunnis because if it appears to the Sauds etc. that they are oppressed there will be a source of tension equivalent to Palestine or Kashmir. At the center of the world's major oil supply.

Unlike Vietnam Iraq involves vital interests. The resolute insistence that the bulk of the problem is insurgents and that if they are desposed of all wll be ok is nonsense. A criminal (remember hundreds a month are murdered by Shiite militias in Basra and this is one of the few southern cities recieving any coverage) Iranian ally controlling Sunni is a recipe for regional unrest.

posted by: rachel on 10.16.05 at 12:00 PM [permalink]

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