Jane Arraf | KBIA

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.

Jordanian Prime Minister Omar Razzaz sits in the front room of his family home in a middle-class Amman neighborhood of traditional white stone houses with small gardens and low walls. Unusually, in a region where senior officials typically live in gated compounds far from public view, the residential street has been kept open to traffic to minimize disruption to Razzaz's neighbors.

Coronavirus cases are spiking sharply in Iraq amid a shortage of supplies that has resulted in protesters storming an oxygen cylinder factory and relatives of patients seizing oxygen canisters in hospitals.

"This is a war against the coronavirus and we have lost the war," says an Iraqi official who has been briefed on the government's response to the pandemic.

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When the Museum of the Bible opened three years ago, its founders aimed to engage a wider audience with the Bible and its thousands of years of history.

But the museum's ambitious goals have been overshadowed by a series of scandals, still unfolding, over antiquities — acquired in a five-year international shopping spree — that have turned out to be looted or fake.

A U.S. military contractor in Iraq has abruptly laid off the majority of the U.S.-led coalition's Iraqi interpreters. The move has left many fearing retaliation from ISIS and Iran-backed militias hostile to U.S. forces, and forced some into hiding.

The sudden layoffs — and lack of safeguards or responses to the interpreters' concerns — appear to be the latest examples of how the U.S. has left in harm's way Iraqi citizens who risked their lives with U.S. forces.

U.S. federal prosecutors are seeking the return to Iraq of a roughly 3,500-year-old clay tablet purchased by the Hobby Lobby arts and crafts store chain for display in the Washington, D.C.-based Museum of the Bible. The cuneiform tablet is described as "stolen Iraqi property" in a civil complaint filed Monday.

What happens to a popular travel destination when visitors suddenly stop coming? In Jordan's ancient city of Petra, it makes way for the cats, dogs, birds and other creatures to take over.

Normally, the city teems with Bedouin guides and their animals — camels, horses and donkeys — bringing some of the thousands of tourists a day to the site's tombs and temples carved out of colorful rock more than 2,000 years ago.

Iraq finally has a new government. More than five months after the country's caretaker prime minister announced he would resign amid anti-government protests, Parliament early Thursday approved intelligence chief Mustafa al-Kadhimi and most of his Cabinet.

Kadhimi, 53, has the backing of both the U.S. and Iran. He has struggled in recent weeks to win support from influential Iran-backed Shiite political factions. In the end, Kathimi won enough support from Parliament without the backing of at least one key former prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, who opposed his nomination.

In the ancient city of Petra, Jordan's best-known tourist destination, bird song echoes against the multicolored rock and the elaborate monuments instead of the din of tour groups and souvenir sellers.

The coronavirus pandemic has done what war did not — bring this Middle Eastern country's vital tourism industry to a dramatic halt, and with it, the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of workers.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, Abdul Rahman Labdour and his two brothers worked in a five-star hotel in the Red Sea resort city of Aqaba, Jordan. But with tourism now shut down, on the eve of Ramadan, the brothers set up a tiny pop-up bakery in their hometown of Shoubak, in the southern part of the country.

"Welcome my dears," Labdour, a burly man in a red Ferrari T-shirt and a mask and gloves shouts to passersby, enticing them to buy qatayef, a crescent-shaped pastry synonymous with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. In Arabic, the sales pitch rhymes.

Yemen has recorded its first confirmed case of coronavirus. Aid officials warn the impoverished country already devastated by five years of war will be unable to cope if the virus spreads.

"We are bracing for the worst," Lise Grande, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Yemen, told NPR on Friday.

Before the case was announced, Grande said in a phone interview from the Yemeni capital Sanaa that the country would be completely overwhelmed by the spread of the virus.

For centuries, Hindus gathered to burn corpses on funeral pyres along the Ganges River. Jews received condolences at home during a seven-day mourning period. Muslims huddled together to wash the corpses of loved ones in Iraq and across the Arab world.

But global burial rituals are being dramatically changed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Jordan has sealed off its second biggest city and the surrounding province after dozens of guests at a wedding held two weeks ago tested positive for the coronavirus.

Army vehicles drove through the streets of Irbid, about 60 miles north of Amman, Thursday night telling people their city of 2 million was now effectively under military control and not to leave their homes.

The country of Jordan has implemented one of the strictest lockdowns in the world to stop the spread of the coronavirus, forcing most people to stay indoors and temporarily shutting down even grocery stores and pharmacies.

The Middle Eastern country with its 10 million residents has so far arrested more than 1,600 people for breaking the five-day-old curfew, which bans even going for walks or allowing pets outdoors.

Etab Hadithi comes home from work, climbs the steps in an unlit stairwell to her fifth-floor apartment in the northwestern Syrian city of Idlib and points out the doorways of neighbors displaced from other parts of the country.

"These ones are from Deir Ezzor, here from Aleppo, those from Damascus," she says, pausing to catch her breath.

On the ground floor of the concrete high-rise that became the headquarters of the protest movement in Baghdad's Tahrir Square, slogans scrawled in black and a mural of a fish dressed in a suit disappear under coats of white paint.

The young Iraqis erasing the murals are followers of Muqtada al-Sadr, an influential Shiite Muslim cleric whose support fueled the largely secular protests against government corruption that broke out last October.

Ending two months of political deadlock, Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi was named Iraq's prime minister-designate on Saturday.

But even as Allawi pledged to crack down on corruption and reform the government he is set to lead, demonstrators took to the streets in opposition to him.

Iraqi security forces launched a major crackdown on anti-government protesters Saturday from Baghdad to cities across the south after an influential Shiite cleric instrumental in the demonstrations withdrew his support.

More than three months after they began, protests in Iraq have escalated and taken a new turn this week. Anti-government demonstrators are attempting to force drastic change in a country whose government is in turmoil and grappling with a crisis between Iran and the United States.

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.

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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.' "

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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.

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

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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.

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