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A leader of an Iran-backed militia in Iraq is killed in a U.S. drone strike

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The United States asserts that it gained a measure of justice for an attack that killed three U.S. soldiers.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A U.S. airstrike in Iraq killed a leader of a militia whose group the United States blamed for an attack on an American base. This is all part of a multinational conflict. Grab your maps. The Americans were killed at a base in Jordan. The militia leader was killed in Iraq. He was part of a group that's linked to Iran, which in turn has vowed to respond to the Israel-Hamas war. Numerous armed groups have opened fire throughout the region, and the latest incident led to a dayslong U.S. response.

FADEL: NPR's Jane Arraf joins us now from Baghdad to talk about all this. Hi, Jane.

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Hi, Leila.

FADEL: So what do we know about who was killed in this strike?

ARRAF: Well, the militia Kataib Hezbollah has confirmed it was one of its commanders. He was called Abu Baqir Al-Saadi. And an Interior Ministry official says he was head of logistics for the Iran-backed group. The U.S., in confirming the strike, said Al-Saadi had been directly involved in attacks on U.S. forces. A bit of confusion still here because initial reports from the Interior Ministry said three people were killed, and it's still not clear whether that was the case and whether there were other militia figures.

This was a targeted strike, Leila, using an adapted Hellfire missile with a nonexplosive warhead - the kind used by the U.S. for counterterrorism operations in crowded areas, which this, indeed, was. The vehicle burst into flames on impact of the airstrike. Everyone in the car was killed, but there were no other casualties reported.

FADEL: So a targeted strike in Baghdad by the U.S. - pretty dramatic. What's the mood in the capital this morning?

ARRAF: Yeah. Apprehension, really, and fear and waiting for what comes next.

FADEL: Yeah.

ARRAF: And there are really not a lot of good scenarios here. It's a workday here, so people, in fact, did go to work. Shops are opening. Seems relatively normal. But this afternoon is the funeral ceremony in Baghdad for the commander who was killed. Some of the Iran-backed groups have called for protesters to gather near the U.S. Embassy, and in the past, those gatherings have sometimes turned violent. And some members of the anti-U.S. resistance coalition that Kataib Hezbollah belong to have called for new attacks against the United States. The Iraqi Hezbollah itself halted attacks in deference to the Iraqi government recently, but it could very well announce a resumption, and that would signal a new wave of attacks from both sides.

FADEL: So it's possible that this escalates. I mean, let's talk about the wider repercussions, though, here. I mean, the U.S. and Iraq recently started talks on the future of American forces in that country. Does this killing impact those talks?

ARRAF: I think it almost certainly does. An Iraqi military spokesman, Yehia Rasool (ph), said these latest attacks were increasing pressure on the Iraqi government to essentially expel U.S. forces. Now, this wouldn't be an overnight process. It would be the result of talks and negotiations, as the U.S. is still an essential security partner. But after withdrawing after its invasion of Iraq and the occupation, troops came back here in 2014 to fight ISIS...

FADEL: Right.

ARRAF: ...At the invitation of the Iraqi government.

The U.S. views these recent attacks that it's launched as a response to being attacked by militias. But there's increasing anger in Parliament, in the streets, in the halls of government, even, at violations of Iraqi sovereignty. And just really quickly, 'cause this is a complicated but important part, these militias that are attacking and being attacked by the U.S. - they actually have brigades that are part of Iraqi government security forces.

FADEL: NPR's Jane Arraf in Baghdad. Thank you, Jane.

ARRAF: Thank you, Leila. 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.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Jane Arraf covers Egypt, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East for NPR News.