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U.S. conducts strikes in Iraq and Syria in response to the killing of 3 service members

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The U.S. has hit dozens of targets in Iraq and Syria in what it says is retaliation for the killing of three U.S. service members at a base in Jordan. And now there are heightened fears that the war in Gaza could widen to a new war between the U.S. and Iran, which the U.S. says is behind those attacks on its bases. NPR's Jane Arraf joins us from Baghdad. Jane, thanks for being with us.

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: What do we know about the 85 targets the Pentagon says it attacked, some in Iraq?

ARRAF: Well, they were Iran-linked sites that were near the Iraq-Syria border. That's more than a couple of hundred miles from Baghdad, so not a huge reaction here the way there would have been had they hit bigger cities. Almost all of them were related to members of the loose coalition of Iran-backed militias that calls itself the Resistance. The Iraqi government, of course, in a difficult position in between pressure from Iraq-backed partners - Iran-backed partners, rather - to get rid of U.S. forces and that fear that they'll be sucked into a war between Iran and the United States.

SIMON: What did the strikes actually hit?

ARRAF: They're focused on a strategic area in Iraq's western Al Anbar province and across the border into Syria, strategic because it's where Iran-backed militias and Iranian forces set up bases, both to counter a large ISIS presence there and to maintain a corridor between Iraq and Syria, whose government is allied with Iran. We reached the mayor of the city of al-Qaim, near the Syrian border, where many of the targets were. He spoke to us on a rather scratchy phone line.

TURKI AL-MAHALAWI: (Non-English language spoken).

ARRAF: Turki Al-Mahalawi, the mayor, says 21 people were taken to the Al-Qaim Hospital for injuries sustained in the bombings. He says at least one civilian was killed and three injured. But he did say that since they were expecting the airstrikes, a lot of the residents had evacuated. An Iraqi government spokesman, Scott, says 16 fighters and civilians were killed in the strikes on the Iraqi side of the border and about 25 more people injured.

SIMON: And, Jane, what reaction from the Iraqi government?

ARRAF: Well, there's a strong statement from the prime minister's spokesman saying contrary to what the U.S. has said, it did not tell the Iraqi government in advance of the airstrikes. Bassem al-Awadi called the strikes a blatant aggression which puts Iraq and the region, quote, "on the brink of abyss." And importantly, he says, the presence of U.S.-led forces in Iraq is itself now a threat, which means even more pressure on U.S. troops to leave.

But, Scott, we have to remember this is not happening in isolation from the war in Gaza. This coalition of groups that calls itself the Islamic Resistance have intensified their attacks since that war between Israel and the militant Palestinian group, Hamas, began. The militias say they'll stop attacks when the Gaza war stops.

SIMON: What happens now?

ARRAF: Well, everyone says they don't want a wider war, but there are so many flashpoints now in the region that the worry is, even if no one necessarily wants that wider conflict, continued large attacks and the demand to respond could have unintended consequences.

SIMON: NPR's Jane Arraf in Baghdad. Jane, thanks so much.

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

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Jane Arraf covers Egypt, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East for NPR News.

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