Should Parliament have the right to say whether Australia goes to war?

By Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

On his American trip Tony Abbott has met with Jeb Bush, son of one president, younger brother of another and himself an aspirant to be Republican candidate for the White House.


The encounter brought back memories of how John Howard, visiting the United States during the Clinton presidency, had his initial contact (in a phone call) with George W Bush, then running for office.

It was later, as a consequence of Howard happening to be in Washington on September 11 2001, that the very personal and deep bond between the two was forged. Still, that first talk started what was to be a crucial pairing.

Howard’s closeness to Bush was one reason why the then prime minister was such an enthusiastic supporter of Bush’s Iraq war. Given the Australian-American relationship, we were always going to be there for the US. But in retrospect, the Australian government’s lack of critical analysis and absence of scepticism is an indictment of its leadership.

With Iraq now in crisis as insurgents attack and the country descends into civil conflict, its government appealing to the US for help, we look back on a war that was started on false information, ended with little achieved, and has been followed by worsening instability and violence. Countless civilians and many troops were sacrificed. (Unlike in Afghanistan, Australia lost no soldiers in combat in Iraq – there were two deaths from accidents.)

In a retrospective lecture to the Lowy Institute last year, marking the war’s 10th anniversary, Howard was somewhat defensive but unrepentant.

It remained his conviction, he said, that his government’s decision to join the war “was right because it was in Australia’s national interests, and the removal of Saddam’s regime provided the Iraqi people with opportunities for freedom not otherwise in prospect”, an assessment that doesn’t sound too convincing now.

He acknowledged that “a powerful element in our decision to join the Americans was, of course, the depth and character of our relationship with the US. Australia had invoked ANZUS in the days following 9/11. We had readily joined the Coalition in Afghanistan; Australia had suffered the brutality of Islamic terrorism in Bali. There was a sense then that a common way of life was under threat”.

In America, many politicians who supported the war at the time have come to rethink. Hillary Clinton, who may face off in a Clinton-Bush presidential race, writes in her just-released Hard Choices that she deeply regretted her vote, as a senator, to authorise George W Bush to launch military action if diplomacy failed.

“Over the years that followed, many senators came to wish they had voted against the resolution. I was one of them.” Her mistake became more painful, she writes, “as the war dragged on, with every letter I sent to a family in New York who had lost a son or a daughter, a father or mother”.

The modest commitment and absence of combat casualties lessened the impact of Iraq for Australians, especially compared with Vietnam, that other war that proved misguided. Vietnam’s impact was heightened by conscription and many deaths.

For most Australians, Iraq is one of those conflicts relatively easy to put out of mind, and conscience.

But a group of Australians under the name of The Campaign for an Iraq War Inquiry, whose president is a former secretary of the Defence Department, Paul Barratt, has been agitating for nearly two years for an investigation into how Australia decided to join the invasion. This push has been predictably dismissed (most recently Defence Minister David Johnston, who responded that there had been several inquiries).

The group has also pressed for reform of the “war power”, which it argues should be in the hands of Parliament. Barratt said in a letter to Johnston last month: “The current process produced very flawed decisions in relation to Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, and is clearly overdue for careful reconsideration.”

The Howard government reported to parliament on Iraq and there was debate and a motion of endorsement in the House of Representatives, but the Parliament had no role in the decision-making.

In contrast, in the US (where the governmental structure is different) the war power is in practical terms divided between the president and the Congress (though presidents have found ways around Congress).

Critics of the proposal see it as alien to our system of government. They also point out that we don’t “declare war” these days, so the decision would be about approval for the dispatch of a force, which would raise the question of whether further parliamentary approval would be required for that force to be increased.

Working out a precise model for the Australian parliament to have a formal share in the war power would be a challenge in itself. Given that crossbenchers usually control the Senate, it wouldn’t be practical or desirable to require approval by each house. If the government and opposition of the day disagreed on whether Australia should enter a conflict – as they did on Iraq – to have the likes of the Palmer United Party calling the shots (as it were) would be a frightening thought.

Agreement by the House of Representatives would seem the most sensible arrangement (another option would be consent by a majority of the total parliament). This, however, would be open to the criticism that the result would be automatic acceptance of the government’s decision.

While that might be true, the fact that the parliament had some formal responsibility would give greater weight to debate on the matter.

Empowering parliament would not guarantee the “right” decision was made – and with some conflicts what that is may only be clear in hindsight – but it might prompt more voices of caution. Even if reluctant to speak out in the chamber, being involved in the process could encourage MPs to examine the issues more actively and raise their voices in the privacy of their party. (In fact we saw a taste of this in the Gulf War when Bob Hawke had to work hard with his backbench to get backing for the Australian commitment.)

All those voting for involvement would publicly have to carry some individual ownership of the decision, as they defended it in their electorates.

While the debate about the war power has been driven by the historical context Hugh White, professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University, points to its contemporary relevance.

“There is a significant risk that China and Japan could clash militarily over the Senkaku/Diaoya Islands,” White says. “If they do, there is a high likelihood that America would be drawn in and would expect Australia to support them. This would pose to Australia a choice about war and peace far more consequential than the choice we faced over Iraq.”

Listen to the new Politics with Michelle Grattan podcast, with guest Sarah Hanson-Young here.

Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

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US companies evacuate Iraqi air base

US companies are evacuating hundreds of Americans working with the Iraqi government from a major air base, as Islamic militants swept towards Baghdad.


A US defence official confirmed that “a few hundred” American contractors from Balad air base, 80 kilometres north of the capital, were being moved to Baghdad for security reasons.

“We can confirm that US citizens under contract to the government of Iraq in support of the US Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program in Iraq are being temporarily relocated by their companies due to security concerns in the area,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Thursday.

Militants are closing fast on the capital Baghdad after sweeping up a huge swathe of predominantly Sunni Arab territory in northern and north-central Iraq since launching their offensive in the second city of Mosul late on Monday.

Psaki stressed, however, that the US embassy in Baghdad was still operating, saying “the status of the staffing at the US embassy and consulates has not changed”.

The evacuation of Balad was being handled by the companies and did not involve the US government, the defence official said.

“It’s their people. It’s their planes,” the official said, asking to remain anonymous.

The contractors are hired out by the Iraqi government and working on programs related to F-16 fighter jets. They are not on the US government’s payroll.

Balad air base was once one of the world’s busiest airports and housed about 36,000 American personnel before it was handed over to Iraqi control in November 2011.

The 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing was the last unit to leave JBB, which occupied 25 square kilometres and had a 20-kilometre security perimeter.

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Postecoglou not weighing in on ref drama

Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou refused to weigh in on the refereeing drama of the World Cup’s opening game, despite it possibly becoming a big factor in Australia’s clash with Chile on Friday.


The showpiece kicked-off in controversy on Thursday after Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura awarded a penalty that helped hosts Brazil start their campaign with a 3-1 win over Croatia in Sao Paulo.

Nishimura ruled Fred had been brought down in the box however, replays showed there had been minimal contact.

In the wake of the controversy there are suggestions referees may be gun shy when it comes to making similar decisions during the rest of the tournament.

Socceroos striker Tim Cahill said on Wednesday he was expecting there to be shirt-pulling and nudging by the Chileans in the box during their crucial first clash in Cuiaba on Friday (Saturday AEST).

But Postecoglou wouldn’t get drawn into the matter.

“All the teams have had a visit from the officials and they’ve told every country what they’re looking for, so we’re aware of what they’re looking at,” Postecoglou said.

“The referees have got their job, we’ve got ours so we won’t sit there and try and preempt what may or may not happen.

“We’ve been told the things that are going to be highlighted at this World Cup and we’ll deal with it accordingly.”

While the Chileans may look to nullify Cahill’s aerial advantage Postecoglou said he wasn’t Australia’s only threat.

“We’ve got somebody there who’s very threatening and Timmy’s looked very sharp. But I don’t think that’s our only avenue for goal,” Postecoglou said.

“We’re working on a few things and we certainly believe we can be a threat in other areas.

“But there’s no doubt they’re going to have to pay attention to Timmy because if he does get half a chance in the box, particularly in the air, he can head it in from any position. So we’ll use that.”

Postecoglou emphasised there were no concerns over Mark Bresciano’s fitness and indicated the veteran midfielder would start.

The 34-year-old has been battling a back complaint in the lead up to the Socceroos’ campaign opener.

“Absolutely (he’s right to start),” Postecoglou said.

“He’s trained really well and more important he’s recovered from training really well. So he’s ready to go.

“I think he’s really looking forward to it, he’s got that steely look in his eye and he’s ready to play.

“There’s no doubt in my mind physically now he’s right to go.”

Meanwhile, FIFA has ordered the Socceroos to change their strip for their opening match.

They were due to wear the traditional gold shirt and green shorts. But they will now play in gold shorts, with the governing body ruling the green would have clashed with Chile’s blue shorts.

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Priest killed, another wounded in US

A critically wounded Catholic priest administered the last rites to his dying colleague after they were shot in their church in Arizona.


An intruder or intruders broke into the Mother of Mercy church around 9.30pm on Wednesday. A 911 emergency call for burglary was made by Father Joseph Terra, as he comforted his dying fellow clergyman, Father Kenneth Walker.

“How can a person break into a church? How can a person assault a man of the cloth? How can a person take a person’s life, especially a priest? It’s sad,” said local councillor Mike Nowakowski.

Phoenix police chief Daniel Garcia called the attack a “tragic and appalling criminal violation”. He said investigators had some “strong physical evidence”, but no eyewitness accounts and no knowledge of how many intruders were involved.

“At this point, we have no information as to whether it’s a suspect or suspects,” he told reporters, adding: “It was called in as a burglary, but I want to be cautious to label anything.”

The two clerics had lived at the church for four years, and Walker was “a pretty strong man”, said Father Fred Adamson of the Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, who confirmed that Terra had given the last rights to his colleague.

“Father Terra was able to absolve him and to offer the last rites, obviously a great deal of comfort and consolation to us as Catholics. He was able to extend that in his own suffering,” he said.

Terra, 56, was hospitalised in critical condition with unspecified injuries.

Authorities had no suspects or solid leads as of Thursday afternoon. They searched the neighbourhood, interviewed the injured priest and examined physical evidence from the scene.

A 2003 Mazda belonging to Walker was found abandoned a few blocks from the church. Police were investigating whether the suspect or suspects took the vehicle and left it behind after the crime.

As police investigated the crime scene at the church, about a dozen parishioners gathered across the street, kneeling on the footpath and reciting the rosary. A bouquet of flowers and a photograph of Walker, 28, lay on the footpath.

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US pulled back into fires of Iraq War

The US is reluctantly being dragged back into the smouldering ashes of the Iraq War amid accusations its failure to intervene in Syria aided the rise of jihadists now closing in on Baghdad.


More than a decade after the invasion and almost three years since the last US troops pulled out, Washington has been relegated to the sidelines as it watched Iraqi forces collapse in face of this week’s surprise onslaught by the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), also known as ISIS.

The US has poured more than $US25 billion ($A27 billion) into training and equipping the Iraqi army since 2003, and even State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki admitted there had been “a clear structural breakdown” among the security forces.

With Baghdad now in ISIL’s sights as it seeks to establish an Islamic caliphate stretching from Lebanon to Iran’s Zagros Mountains, Washington is vowing to ramp up military aid.

The Obama administration is even mulling an Iraqi request for drone strikes – something it has consistently refused.

A demand for an additional $US1 billion of US military aid to Iraq, including aircraft and about 200 Humvees, is already before US lawmakers.

It is out of the question, however, that President Barack Obama, who won his first term in 2008 on a platform of ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, will send forces back to the battlefields where about 4500 Americans were killed.

“ISIL can certainly keep their expansion going. The question is when will they hit a brick wall,” said Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute.

Both the US intelligence services and the Iraqi authorities were caught “flat-footed”, Rubin told AFP, adding that “no one saw this insurgency coming with the speed that it did”.

As the White House huddles in crisis talks, the easiest option facing Obama is to send in military advisers “to help the Iraqi army to do better with what they have. That’s the least problematic,” said retired major general Paul Eaton from the National Security Network think tank.

“The next (option) would be some kind of air-delivered capability, either drones or aircraft. But there are some political downsides to that … just the image of America bombing Arabs is not a great image.”

Neither of those two moves, however, would help restore the credibility of the Iraqi army.

“What Western armies do best is to teach people how to fight,” Eaton said, calling for more and better training, even though US forces have been working with Iraqi soldiers in Jordan since earlier this year.

Aside from the inherent weaknesses of the Iraqi security forces, analysts point to the enormous strain the country is suffering from the war in neighbouring Syria.

One of the causes behind the turmoil in Iraq “is an exogenous shock, which is clearly the Arab Spring”, RAND Corporation senior political scientist Christopher Chivvis said, saying the events had coincided with the withdrawal of US forces.

“Without the Arab Spring, it’s much less likely that you would see this deterioration in Iraqi security that we have today.”

Psaki agreed, telling reporters “this a situation where the impact of the ongoing crisis in Syria, the overflow of that into Iraq, has clearly been a major factor”.

Many of the ISIL fighters, who split from al-Qaeda in 2013, have been trained in arms and warfare in Syria, and US lawmakers on Thursday put the blame squarely on the administration’s lack of a regional strategy.

Hawkish Republican Senator John McCain called for “drastic measures” to reverse the sweep by the Sunni militants.

“Get a new national security team in place. You have been ill-served,” he stormed.

But since 2011, the Obama administration has sought to portray the situation in Iraq as a problem for the Baghdad government, repeatedly urging Shi’ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to work harder to foster unity and reconciliation.

“US officials are right to place part of the blame for this on Nouri al-Maliki,” argued Faysal Itani, a fellow with the Atlantic Council.

He called for serious pressure on Maliki “to reconcile with more mainstream aggrieved Sunni militants and tribes co-operating with ISIL, without whom ISIL would not have been able to make such swift, massive territorial gains”.

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Qld father’s bones found in shallow pit

Police are keeping an open mind about possible links between a young father’s suspected murder and a headless torso found north of Brisbane last year.


A skull found in the Tin Can Bay area, north of the Sunshine Coast, has been identified as that of missing Gold Coast father Shaun Barker.

Forestry workers made the discovery on April 10 in a remote location dotted with hoop pine plantations. A subsequent search uncovered other skeletal remains in a shallow pit about 95m from where the skull was found.

Police confirmed on Friday that the remains belonged to Mr Barker, 33, who was last seen on December 10 with friends and associates at a service station at Broadbeach on the Gold Coast.

His family reported him missing about a month later, after he failed to get in touch over Christmas.

Police have not ruled out possible links between the Barker case and another presumed murder – that of an unidentified man whose charred torso was found on a roadside several kilometres away.

The headless remains, with arms severed at the elbows and nothing left below the rib cage, were found burnt at Cedar Pocket, near Gympie, on September 19, 2013.

“We have been liaising with Sunshine Coast detectives,” Gold Coast Detective Acting Superintendent Brian Swan told reporters on Friday.

“At this point in time, we have no link between Mr Barker and that particular investigation, but of course we are keeping an open mind.”

Police have no firm leads in the suspected murder of Mr Barker.

Officers have reviewed CCTV footage of him with friends and associates at the Broadbeach service station, but the footage provides no clues about how he left and ended up dead hundreds of kilometres away.

“They are of interest to the investigation but they are not suspects,” Det Supt Swan said of the people who last saw Mr Barker alive.

It has not been revealed how Mr Barker, who was the father of a young child, died.

Police are urging anyone with information about his final movements to come forward. They are also searching for his blue Kia Rio, with Queensland registration 518 TBV.

Det Supt Swan said police were looking into Mr Barker’s background, but at this stage there was “no confirmed connection” with criminal bikie gangs.

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Fears for families separated by militant violence

They are living a “half happy” life in Australia amid fears for family and friends left behind in Iraq, which is in crisis as militants seize large swathes of the country in the north.


Ali Mohamad told SBS his wife lives close to Mosul, but is safe for now as the military crisis unfolds.

“I call my wife [and] she say that it’s OK,” he said.

“She says school is stopping, everything because [of] the situation.”

He said this country’s government was not strong, leaving him “half happy” as he waits for his wife to finish her studies and apply for a visa.

Australia is home to some 50,000 people who were born in Iraq, many of whom came here themselves as refugees.

Now some of those who have remained in Iraq through more than a decade of conflict are again facing displacement.

More than 500,000 civilians have fled the Mosul region since fighting began.

Essam Zaki is another local worried about his family, who are living in Baghdad.

“The place you’re born, place you’re raised, and you see it’s collapsing,” he said.

The 29-year-old, who came here as a refugee six years ago, said many people in the country have grown used to conflict.

“Last 10 years ago, because bombing everywhere, assassination, killing people, everyone, the first time they were surprised they were shocked,” he said.

“But now during this time everyone’s taking it like naturally.”

Though he can’t believe the government capitulated so quickly in Mosul.

“This time they’re taking over big cities, so that’s a big concern to the Iraqi people,” he said.

Aid agencies in the region have been forced to suspend their day-to-day operations to respond to the growing crisis.

Mohammad Kandil from Islamic Relief Australia said his agency was already delivering non-food items, clean water and food to the displaced.

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New Wyldfire dating app promises to weed out creeps

LOS ANGELES — They said it couldn’t be done.


But in the year and a half since its launch, Tinder has successfully established itself as the first hook-up app that women actually want to use. The app’s achievement is due in large part to its opt-in chatting system: Daters can only exchange messages when they’ve mutually pre-approved each others’ profile photos, saving them from reading unsolicited missives from people they want absolutely nothing to do with. But the scheme isn’t foolproof. As soon as a woman swipes right on a guy who looks up her alley, she’s still liable to get slapped with an unwelcome message. Tinder’s system ostensibly blocks the cavalcade of creeps by submitting them all to a snap judgment before they’re allowed to open their mouths. And yet, they persist.

Enter Wyldfire, a more curated mobile dating experience that positions women as the gatekeepers to sexual innuendo. When Wyldfire launches in the coming months, women will be free to join, but men must secure an invite from a female friend to start browsing. (The app is a kind of lovechild between Tinder and man-rating app Lulu.) “Everyone has that one friend who they think is a great-quality guy but they either don’t want to date themselves or want someone else they know to date,” Wyldfire brand manager Jesse Shiffman told Allison P. Davis at the Cut. As Davis notes, that type of eligible bachelor — the single, straight guy you don’t want to date, don’t want to set up with any of your friends, and yet are eager to recommend to all female strangers in your general area — may be even more elusive than the guy who actually sparks your interest.

But let’s say we all have these men in our lives: Identifying a guy as an obvious creep isn’t easy, either. The Wyldfire system operates on the assumption that men who text aggressively crude material to strangers on the Internet have no female friends in real life. While it’s tempting to believe that such men have simply never had any contact with female human beings, who really knows what lies in the dark recesses of your friend’s Tinder messages? Not you — you just hang out at parties.

One more thing: Women can be creeps on online dating sites, too. (They’re just less creepy on average than men are.) They also have wildly different tastes in who they’re attracted to, and what types of messages they like to see. But because most of these sites and apps suffer from a deficit of female users, they don’t have much incentive to start weeding out women based on subjective markers of “quality” — whether that means the perceived quality of their looks, their messages or their taste in men. Perhaps what dating sites really need are more robust mechanisms for discouraging rude behavior overall — not arbitrary standards for men, or gatekeepers who are all women. As of now, the objective creep test does not exist. There is no app for it.

Hess is a writer and editor in Los Angeles. She blogs for DoubleX on sex, science and health. Tweet at her @amandahess.

(c) 2014, Slate.

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Colin Sylvia honoured to get Freo debut

It’s taken half the year for him to get up to speed, but former Demon Colin Sylvia finally has the chance to become a vital cog in the Dockers’ premiership push.


Sylvia will make his long-awaited Dockers debut in Saturday’s AFL clash with Richmond at the MCG.

The 28-year-old arrived at Fremantle with much fanfare on a three-year deal last October, but reality hit soon after as he struggled to adapt to the club’s unrelenting work ethic under coach Ross Lyon.

Sylvia has hardly set the WAFL alight this year.

In his seven appearances for Peel Thunder, Sylvia has averaged 17 possessions and a goal per game.

But importantly, Sylvia’s work ethic on the training track and in games has improved, and he’s even taken the Ross Lyon lingo on board.

“(I want to) just play my role and work on my defensive side of the game. Just really give a lot of effort,” Sylvia told the Fremantle website.

“I’m really looking forward to getting out there. It’s a great opportunity for me.

“I’m very honoured.”

Key defender Alex Silvagni returns to the side to help fill the void left by injured backmen Luke McPharlin (knee) and Michael Johnson (knee), but Lyon resisted the urge to recall wingman Anthony Morabito.

Richmond recalled Chris Newman, Aaron Edwards, Shaun Hampson and Dylan Grimes, but Matt Thomas and Ty Vickery couldn’t be considered due to suspension.

The Tigers’ finals hopes appear over after coughing up a 36-point lead on the way to a 28-point loss to North Melbourne last week.

Although Richmond (3-8) need a miracle to get back into the finals mix, coach Damien Hardwick is refusing to wave the white flag.

Fremantle are banging on the door of the top-four following three straight wins, but Lyon says his team can’t afford to take the struggling Tigers lightly.

“We’ve seen them at their best and they’re really challenging,” Lyon said. “The competition is so even. North are 7-4, and Richmond were up on them by six goals.

“Richmond represent a significant challenge and opposition.

“We need to improve because we’re in the middle of the pack and the only way to get to where we want to go is to improve our football.”

Showers are forecast for Saturday’s match – not that Lyon minds.

“We’re not a big team. We’re not super tall,” Lyon said.

“We’re a really athletic, mobile, hard-running team. We can really run and work, and we play really well in the wet.

“That’s my view and that’s our players’ belief.”

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Abbott lays wreath at war cemetery

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington, as his government drops the idea of creating a national war cemetery in Canberra to commemorate the Anzac centenary in 2015.


The tomb is in the Arlington National Cemetery.

Mr Abbott on Friday viewed the elaborate changing of the Army soldier guard ceremony at the tomb, before laying the wreath.

“It’s fitting that I should lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier here,” Mr Abbott told reporters.

“I should pay tribute to the Americans who have fought for their country because many of them have been fighting for our country.”

He said Americans, Australians, Canadians, New Zealanders and Britons had all made sacrifices over the past century.

The cemetery is the final resting place of more than 400,000 active-duty service members, veterans and their families.

Mr Abbott raised the idea of creating a similar cemetery in Australia in 2013 at Legacy’s national conference in Brisbane, describing it as “Australians’ Arlington”.

The concept would involve interring significant ex-soldiers.

But it is understood the concept has now been ditched after feedback from the veterans’ community.

The prime minister, who will host the G20 summit in November, also on Friday discussed financial and economic issues with US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew and Federal Reserve chairwoman Janet Yellen.

Mr Abbott will receive a military welcome when he visits the Pentagon for talks with Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey.

He will then head to Houston, where he will deliver a speech to the Asia Society. Liquefied natural gas is also likely to be discussed during Mr Abbott’s visit, with the biggest project occupying the minds of LNG industry figures being the Panama Canal expansion.

It will allow massive Post-Panamax ships to take American LNG to the booming markets of Asia to compete against the Australian product.

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