U.S. Conducts Airstrikes Against Iran-Backed Militia In Iraq

Mar 12, 2020
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The U.S. military says it has carried out a series of airstrikes in Iraq against a militia group backed by Iran. This comes a day after rocket attacks on a military base in Iraq that killed two U.S. and one British service member.

For more on this story, we're joined now by NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre. Hey, Greg.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hey there.

CHANG: So can you give us more details about these airstrikes?

MYRE: Right. So the U.S. military says it conducted five airstrikes on weapon storage facilities belonging to Kata'ib Hezbollah. Now, no precise locations in Iraq and no word on casualties. And this is an Iraqi militia, but it's backed by Iran. The statement did everything but explicitly blame the group for this Wednesday rocket attack on a military base, Camp Taji, which is north of Baghdad. And that's where the two Americans and one British service member were killed. U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper was hinting at this earlier today. He said, quote, "You don't get to shoot at our bases and kill and wound Americans and get away with it."

CHANG: Could this mean a possible escalation in Iraq like we saw a few months ago?

MYRE: Right. It's hard to predict, but it is a reminder of just how volatile Iraq remains. Now, Kata'ib Hezbollah was blamed for a series of attacks against the U.S. late last year. And when an American was killed in one of those attacks, the U.S. hit back with airstrikes. And then that led to violent protests at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. And then the U.S. carried out that big airstrike that killed Qassem Soleimani, a top Iranian official. The Iranians then fired ballistic missiles at U.S. bases. So it shows how quickly this can all ramp up.

CHANG: Now, Iran did promise retaliation for the killing of Soleimani, so could the rocket attacks yesterday be part of that?

MYRE: Well, it certainly raises that suspicion, and Iran often uses proxies to carry out attacks. But we don't know that answer for sure. Also, was this just a one-off attack, or will there be more? I mean, we saw several of these attacks late last year. The U.S. and Iran are both dealing with some serious crises - the coronavirus and financial and economic problems. So it would seem neither scene (ph) would have an interest in escalating. But once the shooting starts, it's very hard to control events.

CHANG: That is NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre. Thank you, Greg.

MYRE: My pleasure.

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