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Iraq Responds To Iran's Missile Attack On 2 Military Bases

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

So as we mentioned, both of these strikes hit U.S. military bases in Iraq. That country was, of course, the location for the U.S. drone strike that happened last week, killing Iran's top military general. And the whole thing led to the current escalation. So the question for NPR's Jane Arraf in Baghdad - how is Iraq responding to a conflict playing out on its soil? Jane joins us now. Thanks for being with us.

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Thank you.

MARTIN: So did Iran get a heads up? I mean, I'm sorry. Did Iraq get a heads up? Did Iran tell them that this attack was coming against U.S. forces, these bases?

ARRAF: Well, kind of, sort of. The prime minister's office just released a statement saying that they received a call from the Iranians - a call, mind you - saying that they were about to strike U.S. military targets in Iraq. And the prime minister's office says at the same time the U.S. military called to say their bases - two bases, one in Anbar, al-Asad, and another base in Irbil province, the Harir air base - were being rocketed. So they gave them a heads up and made sure to stress they were targeting the American military, although there are a lot of Iraqi military there as well. And the interesting thing was no casualties reported, which is very unusual with a strike of this size. The prime minister is reaching out to try to contain this. He says he wants it not to slide into all-out war because Iraq would be the first to suffer.

MARTIN: I mean, that's got to be vexing for this country, right? I mean, this is a U.S.-Iran conflict playing out on an Iraqi battlefield, essentially. What are you hearing from Iraqis about that?

ARRAF: This is basically the worst fear of officials and people in the streets. People are extremely worried. Because this has been simmering for a long time. And the worry has been that it will erupt into something much worse between Iran and the U.S. And we have to remember as well that Iran and Iraq fought an eight-year war in the 1980s with a million people dead. And it's a much different Iraq now. There's much more Iranian influence here in the government. But the dynamic is still very fluid, and the country is very polarized. Some parties here are calling for a summit with regional leaders to try to diffuse the attention, and some politicians who welcomed the U.S. troops leaving say this increases their belief that the troops do have to leave so that Iraq doesn't become more of a target.

MARTIN: Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman and I were just talking about the fact that these missiles originated from Iran. This was not an attack that came out of Iranian-backed militias in Iraq. But those are still there - right? - these militias. How big a threat are they?

ARRAF: They are a very big threat, perhaps the biggest threat next to Iran, because the problem is they're not all fully under the control of the Iranian government or the Iranian regime. And they're certainly not under the control of Iraqi security forces, even though they're supposed to be. So after this strike, one of the big Iran-backed militias, Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq, League of the Righteous, pledged a further retaliation. They said that strike was in revenge for Qassem Soleimani. The ones that they and others will launch will be in revenge for a senior Iraqi leader, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who was also killed in the U.S. drone strike.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Jane Arraf reporting from Baghdad. Thank you, Jane.

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


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