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Anger over deadly airstrikes could push U.S. out of Iraq


Today the United States announced a new strike on Houthi militants in Yemen. It is the third day in a row that the U.S. and its allies have targeted Iranian-backed armed groups, following last week's attack against American soldiers in Jordan. In Baghdad, tension is rising between the U.S. and Iraq after U.S. airstrikes there killed at least 17 people. As NPR's Jane Arraf reports, anger over the attacks could force the U.S. military out of the country.

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Here, outside one of Baghdad's militia headquarters Sunday, this was the aftermath of the U.S. airstrikes...

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD #1: (Chanting in non-English language).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Chanting in non-English language).

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD #1: (Chanting in non-English language).

ARRAF: ...Militia fighters chanting, death to Israel, death to America. These are members of Iran-backed militias, now part of Iraq's official security forces.

There's a convoy of ambulances making its way slowly down the street to a Shia mosque before the bodies are taken to be buried in the holy city of Najaf. In front and behind are fighters waving Iraqi flags. They're chanting that America is the biggest Satan, that America is the enemy of God.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD #1: (Chanting in non-English language).

ARRAF: Most of the fighters were killed in U.S. airstrikes overnight Friday on a militia headquarters in Iraq's western Al Anbar Province.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Singing in non-English language).

ARRAF: The dead were mostly young men. The U.S. had announced before it would retaliate for Iraqi militia strikes on a base in Jordan last week that killed three U.S. service people. Most militia leaders had evacuated before the attacks. The U.S. deaths were a red line for the U.S. administration. In a speech to the militia fighters, Falih Al-Fayyadh, the head of the official militia forces, made clear they have their own red lines.


FALIH AL-FAYYADH: (Through interpreter) We do not accept that our blood or the blood of our sons be used for political purposes. We urge the Prime Minister to purge the Iraqi land of any foreign presence.

ARRAF: The militias accused the United States of being a threat to the country that hosts it, that rather than fighting the militant Sunni group ISIS, it's dragging them into its conflict with Iran. The government, backed by Iran-linked parties, agrees, and it started talks for a timetable for withdrawal. The U.S. has said only that it's negotiating its troop presence in Iraq. A spokesman for one of the key members of the Iran-backed militias tells NPR his coalition has set a deadline for U.S. troops to leave.

SHEIKH KADHIM AL-FARTOUSI: (Through interpreter) It must be completed before the start of the American elections, approximately a year. Part of the operations now are because of the presidential race.

ARRAF: Sheikh Kadhim al-Fartousi, spokesman for the militia Kata'ib Sayyid al-Shuhada, says the U.S. administration is trying to score election points with the attacks. The militias have escalated their strikes on U.S. bases in Iraq, Syria and recently Jordan to support the militant Palestinian group Hamas, which is fighting Israel in Gaza. In retaliation, the U.S. has bombed targets inside Iraq.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD #2: (Singing in non-English language).

ARRAF: All this is happening while a million Iraqis throng the roads, walking to Baghdad for an annual Shia pilgrimage to the Kadhimiya shrine this week.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Singing in non-English language).

ARRAF: For most Iraqis, the strikes happened so far from their everyday lives, that it hasn't made a huge impact. But here, outside the militia headquarters, it's personal. A young fighter carrying an Iraqi flag, Saif Saeed, tells us it's heartbreaking, young men being killed.

SAIF SAEED: (Through interpreter) Why are they crossing continents to attack us? Why are they destroying our country? Since the Americans came, we have not seen anything good from them.

ARRAF: When the U.S. invaded Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein two decades ago, Iraqis thought life would be better. But Saeed and other young people have grown up with different forms of war since then. Jane Arraf, NPR News, Baghdad.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) 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.

Jane Arraf covers Egypt, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East for NPR News.