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Jane Arraf

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

Arraf joined NPR in 2017 after two decades of reporting from and about the region for CNN, NBC, the Christian Science Monitor, PBS Newshour, and Al Jazeera English. She has previously been posted to Baghdad, Amman, and Istanbul, along with Washington, DC, New York, and Montreal.

She has reported from Iraq since the 1990s. For several years, Arraf was the only Western journalist based in Baghdad. She reported on the war in Iraq in 2003 and covered live the battles for Fallujah, Najaf, Samarra, and Tel Afar. She has also covered India, Pakistan, Haiti, Bosnia, and Afghanistan and has done extensive magazine writing.

Arraf is a former Edward R. Murrow press fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. Her awards include a Peabody for PBS NewsHour, an Overseas Press Club citation, and inclusion in a CNN Emmy.

Arraf studied journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa and began her career at Reuters.

The conflict between the United States and Iran has flared dangerously in Iraq — and in few places more so than a remote desert air base, more than 100 miles northwest of Baghdad. Iran fired at least 10 ballistic missiles at the sprawling Ain al-Assad base last week in response to the Jan. 3 U.S. drone strike in Baghdad that killed top Iranian commander Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani and an Iraqi paramilitary leader.

NPR international correspondent Jane Arraf and freelance photographer Alexander Tahaov were among a group of journalists invited to tour the base earlier this week.

Updated at 7:43 p.m. ET

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper announced on Monday that some forces are being repositioned inside Iraq, not leaving the country.

Two other U.S. officials told NPR that some are going to Kuwait temporarily.

Updated at 11:50 p.m. ET Sunday

As thousands of mourners flooded the streets of Iran on Sunday to mourn the death of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, a series of dizzying developments convulsed the Middle East, generating new uncertainty around everything from the future of U.S. forces in Iraq to the battle against ISIS and the effort to quell Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

Amid the fallout of the U.S. drone strike on Friday that killed Soleimani, Sunday saw the following whiplash-inducing developments unfold almost simultaneously:

The apartment in Baghdad where Jimmy Aldaoud lived — and died, just two months after being deported from the U.S. — has been cleaned and emptied. But on the windowsill in the bedroom, there's a remnant of the fear he felt about being sent to a country where he'd never been: two plastic toy pistols with orange foam tips and bright pink suction-cup darts.

"He would sleep with these in his hands," says Samir Kada, another deportee from the U.S. who lives next door and looked out for him. "He said, 'If anybody comes, I'm going to pull it on them. I swear to God.' "

Rockets struck Baghdad's international airport compound Thursday, as the country tries to contain anti-government protests which have shaken the foundation of the Iraqi government. The attack appears to be the latest in what a senior U.S. military official described as a dangerously escalating campaign by Iran-backed militias.

Khazaal Salih sits in a tent next to a photo of his son, just back from the framing shop. In the gold-framed photo, Abbas wears a disposable blue surgical mask to protect him from tear gas. He's smiling and raising his fingers in a victory sign. At the top of the photo is the date — Nov. 6, 2019 — when the young man was killed by Iraqi security forces during an anti-government protest.

At a military base in Hasakah province in northeastern Syria, a Bradley armored fighting vehicle churns up sand as it speeds past a TV camera, an American flag flying behind its turret.

The Bradley, airlifted in from Kuwait, was demonstrated for a small group of journalists, the first group of reporters taken by the U.S. military to Syria since President Trump announced late last month that he would leave troops there to protect oil installations.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Essa, 23, shakes a can of red spray paint, crouches over the sidewalk near Baghdad's Tahrir Square and scrawls something shocking about Iran's supreme leader.

"Khamenei is an ass," it reads.

Updated on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. ET

In Iraq and Syria, news of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's death has stirred a mix of responses — from joy to disbelief to dread.

Since President Trump announced this weekend that Baghdadi died during a U.S. military operation in Syria, analysts have been grappling with the implications for the militant organization that has now lost its main chief in addition to all the territory it once held in Iraq and Syria.

A convoy of blue and white minibuses rolls into the Bardarash refugee camp in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, about 100 miles east of the Syrian border. The buses are full of crying babies, small children peering excitedly out the windows and worried-looking adults. Many of them have only the things they could carry with them in hours of walking to the border.

Jimmy Aldaoud was deported from the U.S. in June to Iraq, a country that his family said he had never set foot in. Two months after he arrived there, his family got word that he was found dead in Baghdad.

Aldaoud was born in Greece, his sister Mary Bolis said, after his family fled Iraq. He didn't speak Arabic.

He was 41 when he died, and he arrived legally in the U.S. in May 1979 when he was a year old, his lawyer, Chris Schaedig, said. He lived near Detroit until he was put on a plane to Najaf by U.S. federal officials.

Zahura Sinan passes around wrapped candy to guests sitting on carpets in the family's living room in a village in northeastern Syria. It's to celebrate the first day of freedom for two Yazidi girls, liberated from the ISIS family who held them captive for two years.

"This is like their birthday," says Sinan's son Mahmoud Rasho, the Yazidi official who found the girls in a detention camp for ISIS families. For now, his family is taking care of the girls at their home near the city of Hasakah.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

A little girl with enormous blue eyes watches, mesmerized, as Fajriya Khaled gives a tiny 3-month-old baby a bottle.

The girl is 1 1/2. She wears a white party dress with sequins and pink roses on the bodice, and a pink sash. On her wrist is a string bracelet — perhaps for luck. In her ears are the gold earrings she was wearing when she was brought to the orphanage as a baby — a sign that, although abandoned, she was not unloved.

Judge Amina, fuchsia sunglasses perched atop her long, blonde hair, commands the ISIS prisoner to enter.

Mahmoud Amir, a 22-year-old Syrian, walks in, wearing slippers, sweatpants and a black, long-sleeved T-shirt. He lowers himself into an office chair, facing three judges seated behind a long desk. In his hands, he holds the black fabric blindfold that guards have just removed from his eyes.

In northeast Syria, an overcrowded detention camp is home to more than 73,000 people who lived in the former ISIS caliphate. Almost three-quarters of the al-Hol camp residents are children — born to Syrian, Iraqi and other foreign parents who flocked to the ISIS caliphate over the five years it ruled territory here.

In recent visits to the camp, NPR was told of babies dying from malnutrition and disease, and found women collapsed by the side of the road.

It's the night before a group of Yazidi women and children freed from ISIS in Syria cross the border home to Iraq.

A pale young woman with shrapnel wounds stretches out on a mattress. An older woman in a velveteen housedress leans against the wall cradling her bandaged arm — broken by an ISIS wife who accused her of taking food in the last days of the caliphate.

On the floor near a small heater warming the concrete room, a 5-year-old girl has been crying for so long that her sobs have turned to jagged coughs.

The women huddle for shelter from the rain under a corrugated iron roof, their long black cloaks dragging in the mud as they wait in line for food and pray for the return of the ISIS caliphate.

The squalid al-Hol camp, in the Kurdish-majority region of Syria known as Rojava, is filled with more than 72,000 people — most of them women and children who came out of the last piece of ISIS-held territory in Baghouz.

Mazen looks like he wants to disappear into his gray hoody as he sits in the corner of a tent in a camp for displaced Yazidis in Iraq. The 13-year-old boy's eyes are haunted and huge in a face still gaunt from not getting enough to eat.

After almost five years held captive by ISIS, Mazen says he wants to talk about what happened to him but he doesn't have the words.

"How do I feel?" he says as if bewildered by the question. "Really I don't know how to feel."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The Federal Aviation Administration now faces an awkward question.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

With a single line, President Trump fanned the flames of a push in Iraq to expel U.S. forces, just as he declared he wanted to keep troops in the country.

"We spent a fortune on building this incredible base. We might as well keep it," Trump said in a CBS interview on Feb. 3, referring to the Ain al-Asad military base in Iraq's western desert. "And one of the reasons I want to keep it is because I want to be looking a little bit at Iran because Iran is a real problem."

"Can you imagine?" Iraqi archaeologist Lamia al-Gailani was fond of saying, her voice rising in delight.

It was often about some item showing the ingenuity of Sumerian civilization, like a scythe made of clay the last time I toured the National Museum of Iraq with her, last spring.

I'd known Gailani since the 1990s. She was one of a generation of women — accomplished, unconventional and entirely original — who first drew me to Iraq.

Muneer Subaihani had lived in the United States for almost 25 years when he was arrested by U.S. immigration authorities last summer and deported back to Iraq. That's when the U.S. lost track of him.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported him in contravention of a U.S. federal court order two years ago halting the deportations of about 1,400 Iraqis. Subaihani was one of them. In a rare move, the court ordered ICE to find him and bring him back to the United States.

It had been years since anyone had seen an American military commander walking around the streets of downtown Baghdad.

So when Marine Brig. Gen. Austin Renforth went with his Iraqi counterpart for a tour of the city's most crowded neighborhoods on Friday, it wasn't clear what kind of reception he would get.

Sixteen years after the United States and its coalition partners invaded Iraq, most Iraqis still blame the U.S. for disbanding the Iraqi army and for the security vacuum and devastating civil war that followed.

Naser al-Shimary is waiting at the arrivals gate at Baghdad's international airport. He says he's so nervous his "heart is skipping beats."

"Last time I held my wife and son was May 2017," says Shimary, 29, speaking English with an American accent. "That was the last time I got to kiss them and hold them."

Mohaned Ahmed is standing on scaffolding at the ancient site of Babylon, dipping water into a bucket and sponging the bricks around a stone relief showing a dragon with a serpent's head.

The image is so well defined it looks as if it might have been made yesterday instead of more than 2,000 years ago. But below it, the bricks and mortar of one of the ancient world's grandest cities are disintegrating.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The humanitarian situation in Yemen is worsening, with millions of children at risk of starvation and fighting intensifying despite international pressure for a cease-fire in the country's civil war, according to a senior United Nations official who last week visited the rebel-held port of Hodeidah.

A bidding war at Christie's this week sent the price of a 3,000-year-old stone relief from $7 million to more than $28 million, setting a world record for ancient Assyrian artworks and raising fears among some archaeologists that soaring prices will fuel the market for looted antiquities as well as legally acquired ones.

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