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Iraq's Parliament Calls For Expulsion Of U.S. Troops

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to start the program with dramatic announcements out of Iraq and Iran today in response to the U.S. killing of Qassem Soleimani. In Iraq, the Parliament voted to expel U.S. forces, and the U.S. military said it was suspending anti-ISIS operations with Iraq. Then just hours ago, Iran put out a statement saying it would have, quote, "no limitations," unquote, on enriching uranium but would continue its cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. watchdog organization.

We're joined now by NPR's Jane Arraf in Baghdad and NPR's Geoff Brumfiel here in our studios in Washington, D.C., to tell us more.

Welcome to you both. Thanks for joining us.

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Thank you.

GEOFF BRUMFIEL, BYLINE: Thank you.

MARTIN: Jane, let me start with you. Let me start with the announcement in Iraq's Parliament today that U.S. forces would be expelled. What more can you tell us about that?

ARRAF: Well, it was started off by Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi (ph), who took power a year ago supported by the U.S. as well as Iran, and he laid it out pretty clearly. He said that they were grateful that the U.S. had supported Iraq in its fight against ISIS. But he basically said the U.S. has stepped out of line and breached Iraqi sovereignty, and he said that the 5,000 U.S. forces in Iraq at the invitation of the U.S. government - he was recommending that their invitation be rescinded and they leave.

So then there was a quick vote along sectarian lines because that now is reemerging. The Kurds and Sunnis boycotted the vote, but Shia parties, some of them Iran-backed, carried it.

MARTIN: You know, it seems sudden. The U.S. military has had a presence in Iraq since 2003. Forgive me if I'm asking you to speculate, but will they really be leaving? And do we know how soon?

ARRAF: You know, it almost seems inevitable now because events have moved really quickly since that U.S. drone strike on Friday. Iran has vowed retaliation, as have Iran-backed militias here. And the U.S. military said today it was actually suspending training of Iraqi forces and suspending support for Iraqi operations against ISIS so it could concentrate on force protection.

And to drive that message home, just a short while ago, there was the sound of explosions in the Green Zone, where the U.S. and other embassies are based. They did not - they were rockets, and they did not hit the embassy, but they did injure Iraqi civilians.

MARTIN: Let me turn to you, Geoff. You've been covering the nuclear agreement for years now. What exactly did Iran announce today?

BRUMFIEL: Well, Iran announced that it would no longer abide by any of the restrictions set around uranium enrichment in the 2015 nuclear deal. So this all started actually about six months ago. Iran began gradually ratcheting back obligations they kept because it said the U.S., which withdrew from the deal, was not allowing it to have a economic benefit. What's happened today is the final step, which is to do with the number of centrifuges that Iran says it will operate. It says that it's going to just basically use as many centrifuges as it likes from here on out.

That being said, it's going to continue to stay within the deal in the sense that it will allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to conduct inspections. And it's willing to go back into the deal - you know, go back to sort of respecting the agreement if it does see the benefits it was promised. So it's not an entire withdrawal.

MARTIN: How do you interpret that?

BRUMFIEL: I mean, it's - the timing, obviously, is pretty significant. Now, it is interesting - Iran, you know, has been doing these steps every 60 days, and this happens to be exactly 60 days after the last step. So this is very consistent with what they've been doing with the nuclear deal. But it's hard not to see it also as a message about the current situation and sort of its willingness or lack thereof to work with the international community. I think it is sending a strong message.

MARTIN: Well, you just reminded us that President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the agreement in 2018, but it has continued with European allies. So you just - if you would just remind us, like, what is at stake here?

BRUMFIEL: Right. Well, I mean, what's at stake from the Western perspective is a nuclear-capable Iran or an Iran that is very, very close to having nuclear weapons. Prior to the deal, it was perhaps months away from getting all the material it would need to build a nuclear bomb if it wanted to. Or maybe even less than that - some have argued it could have been weeks, maybe a month.

So the Europeans very much want this deal to stay in place. They, of course, want Iran to not become a nuclear weapons state. And it remains to be seen whether they're going to institute what are called snap-backs - going to reinstitute sanctions under the deal. We just don't know right now.

MARTIN: Jane, can you just describe the atmosphere there? Does it feel tense? Does it feel like a country that's bracing for something?

ARRAF: You know, this country has braced for so many things for so many years, and it feels that way again. It really does. It's been - a lot of the time here, Iraqis have thought, when is the attack coming? When are we going to be hit? When are things going to worsen again? And then they were sort of lulled into complacency a bit because it was sort of quiet.

But it's that kind of feeling again because there is no obvious way that this ends well, and part of that is because of ISIS. In 2014, Iran came in to fight ISIS in Iraq. If the U.S. leaves, Iran will certainly come in again. So the entire future seems uncertain to people here.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Jane Arraf in Baghdad and NPR's Geoff Brumfiel here in Washington, D.C.

Thank you both so much for joining us.

BRUMFIEL: Thank you.

ARRAF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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