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The likely targets of the U.S. air strikes in Iraq and Syria


Our top story this hour - the U.S. has carried out a series of retaliatory airstrikes against Iranian military forces and affiliated militias in both Syria and Iraq tonight. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the military struck dozens of targets at seven facilities. These U.S. attacks come six days after a drone strike on an American base in Jordan that killed three U.S. troops and injured at least 40 more service members. President Biden has said the response will continue.

Well, NPR's Jane Arraf is in the Iraqi capital tonight. She is in Baghdad. And, Jane, tell us - what do you know?

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise. Well, the strikes took place in Iraq's western Al Anbar province, which is about - the main city there, al-Qaim, is about 250 miles from Baghdad, so in quite a remote area, as well as across the border in Syria. The U.S. military said they were targeting Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and militias affiliated with it. And they say they hit more than 85 targets, including command and control operations, intelligence bases and heavy weapons depots.

Tribal security officials on the Iraqi side of the border said the strikes included missile warehouses in the border city of al-Qaim and airstrikes on Akashat in the middle of the Anbar desert, where Iraq's Iran-backed militias maintain one of their main bases. Across the border in Syria, the Imam Ali base, constructed by Iran and its proxies near the city of Abu Kamal, was also hit.

KELLY: And when you say a base constructed by Iran and Iranian proxies, what groups specifically are being targeted here?

ARRAF: Well, the main player here, apart from direct Iranian forces, is Kata'ib Hezbollah. It's a militia that's perhaps the most powerful of those that are part of the anti-U.S. resistance, as it calls itself - a group - a coalition, basically - that had been around for some years but has been revitalized since the war in Gaza. Kata'ib Hezbollah is at the center of a lot of this. The U.S. said the airstrike on its base in Jordan, which killed three service people, bore the fingerprints of the group.

But it's also very much aimed, directly, in a sense, at Iran, although obviously not in Iranian territory, because they've been hitting bases where the IRCG Quds Force, the elite unit of Iran's, basically, expeditionary paramilitary, which works with militias in Iraq - operates. And they've been hitting a strategic area along that border, strategic both to the Iranian militias, the pro-Iranian militias - sorry, Iran-backed militias, let's say - that use it and strategic for the U.S. It's where the U.S. fought some of its fiercest battles against al-Qaida and ISIS. And it's where Iran-backed militias moved in to fight ISIS in 2014 and never left.

KELLY: Yeah. So you're describing this border area. It's strategic. It is far from Baghdad, where you are. Just speak to how destabilizing these strikes could be in a region that is already so on edge.

ARRAF: Extremely destabilizing. It's a very delicate balance, as you know. Iraq almost instantly condemned these strikes as an attack on its sovereignty. And, interestingly, the U.S. noted that the airstrikes were carried out in part by long-range bombers flown from the United States. That would be a move that would be aimed at avoiding some of the expected repercussions had the U.S. used bases in Iraq to carry out those strikes. Now, Iran says it's not responsible for the militias launching attacks, but the militias, though, do have clear ties to Iran. And both Iran and the coalition of groups attacking the U.S. have made clear that these attacks will continue until the war in Gaza stops.

KELLY: All right. NPR's Jane Arraf up late for us tonight in Baghdad. Thank you, Jane.

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

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