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U.S. Troops Remain In Iraq, Crowds Mourn Iraqi Killed In Drone Attack


The body of an Iranian general whose killings sparked a crisis came home. A funeral procession carried Qassem Soleimani to the town where he grew up in Iran. It is a sign of the emotion unleashed by the U.S. strike on him. The crowds stampeded. Officials say more than 30 people were killed.

A different sort of chaos is enveloping Iraq, where Soleimani was killed. And NPR's Jane Arraf is covering that. Hey there, Jane.


INSKEEP: We should note that an Iraqi leader who was also killed in this drone strike has been moved about the two countries and is now being brought home. What's that like today?

ARRAF: Yeah. There were huge crowds there, as well - nothing like the millions that turned out across Iran to mourn Soleimani. But there were huge crowds mourning Abdul Mahdi al-Muhandis, who was the deputy head of paramilitaries in Iraq. His body was carried through Basra, the coastal city, in a flag-draped coffin covered with flowers. And speakers denounced the U.S. as barbaric. He'll be buried in the holy city of Najaf.

INSKEEP: Now, you mentioned he's the deputy head of paramilitaries. The fact that he was an official in Iraq's government gets at the complexity here because this is a government that's aligned with the United States. The guy's part of that government. But he was also head of this militia that was attacking U.S. forces, which is why he was killed. And now this has led Iraq's Parliament to vote to expel foreign forces, including its allies from the United States. Are U.S. troops really leaving?

ARRAF: Yeah, a lot in there. It's not clear that's why he was killed - because there were also six other people killed.


ARRAF: He might have - yep. But as for U.S. troops leaving, as you know, quite a lot of confusion about that. Yesterday, there was a surprising letter that appeared. It was one of the U.S. commanders here telling his Iraqi counterparts that the U.S. respects the Iraqi Parliament decision to ask them to leave. In Arabic, it referred to a withdrawal, or a exit, which sounded like - wow, here's the withdrawal. But the Pentagon explained that was a draft sent in error and the troops are actually staying put. They have moved out NATO and coalition troops - just a few hundred of them - to neighboring countries, to safer places. But it seems like the roughly 5,000 U.S. troops here in Iraq are in a holding pattern.

INSKEEP: You just said NATO and coalition forces. There are more nations involved than the United States. Are international leaders trying to get the Iraqi government to reconsider?

ARRAF: Absolutely. Frantically, it seems, they're trying to get the government to reconsider. Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi, who stood before Parliament and recommended that U.S. troops leave, has received phone calls from British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. He's received calls from the Emir of Qatar, from the Dutch, from all sorts of people. And there seemed to be frantic efforts going on to try to come up with a solution that would leave coalition troops here and perhaps a U.S. presence. But of course, that depends on the U.S.

INSKEEP: NPR's Jane Arraf is in Baghdad. Jane, thanks, as always, for your insights.

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

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