Jane Arraf

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Zahura Sinan passes around wrapped candy to guests sitting on carpets in the family's living room in a village in northeastern Syria. It's to celebrate the first day of freedom for two Yazidi girls, liberated from the ISIS family who held them captive for two years.

"This is like their birthday," says Sinan's son Mahmoud Rasho, the Yazidi official who found the girls in a detention camp for ISIS families. For now, his family is taking care of the girls at their home near the city of Hasakah.

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A little girl with enormous blue eyes watches, mesmerized, as Fajriya Khaled gives a tiny 3-month-old baby a bottle.

The girl is 1 1/2. She wears a white party dress with sequins and pink roses on the bodice, and a pink sash. On her wrist is a string bracelet — perhaps for luck. In her ears are the gold earrings she was wearing when she was brought to the orphanage as a baby — a sign that, although abandoned, she was not unloved.

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Judge Amina, fuchsia sunglasses perched atop her long, blonde hair, commands the ISIS prisoner to enter.

Mahmoud Amir, a 22-year-old Syrian, walks in, wearing slippers, sweatpants and a black, long-sleeved T-shirt. He lowers himself into an office chair, facing three judges seated behind a long desk. In his hands, he holds the black fabric blindfold that guards have just removed from his eyes.

In northeast Syria, an overcrowded detention camp is home to more than 73,000 people who lived in the former ISIS caliphate. Almost three-quarters of the al-Hol camp residents are children — born to Syrian, Iraqi and other foreign parents who flocked to the ISIS caliphate over the five years it ruled territory here.

In recent visits to the camp, NPR was told of babies dying from malnutrition and disease, and found women collapsed by the side of the road.

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It's the night before a group of Yazidi women and children freed from ISIS in Syria cross the border home to Iraq.

A pale young woman with shrapnel wounds stretches out on a mattress. An older woman in a velveteen housedress leans against the wall cradling her bandaged arm — broken by an ISIS wife who accused her of taking food in the last days of the caliphate.

On the floor near a small heater warming the concrete room, a 5-year-old girl has been crying for so long that her sobs have turned to jagged coughs.

The women huddle for shelter from the rain under a corrugated iron roof, their long black cloaks dragging in the mud as they wait in line for food and pray for the return of the ISIS caliphate.

The squalid al-Hol camp, in the Kurdish-majority region of Syria known as Rojava, is filled with more than 72,000 people — most of them women and children who came out of the last piece of ISIS-held territory in Baghouz.

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Mazen looks like he wants to disappear into his gray hoody as he sits in the corner of a tent in a camp for displaced Yazidis in Iraq. The 13-year-old boy's eyes are haunted and huge in a face still gaunt from not getting enough to eat.

After almost five years held captive by ISIS, Mazen says he wants to talk about what happened to him but he doesn't have the words.

"How do I feel?" he says as if bewildered by the question. "Really I don't know how to feel."

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The Federal Aviation Administration now faces an awkward question.

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With a single line, President Trump fanned the flames of a push in Iraq to expel U.S. forces, just as he declared he wanted to keep troops in the country.

"We spent a fortune on building this incredible base. We might as well keep it," Trump said in a CBS interview on Feb. 3, referring to the Ain al-Asad military base in Iraq's western desert. "And one of the reasons I want to keep it is because I want to be looking a little bit at Iran because Iran is a real problem."

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"Can you imagine?" Iraqi archaeologist Lamia al-Gailani was fond of saying, her voice rising in delight.

It was often about some item showing the ingenuity of Sumerian civilization, like a scythe made of clay the last time I toured the National Museum of Iraq with her, last spring.

I'd known Gailani since the 1990s. She was one of a generation of women — accomplished, unconventional and entirely original — who first drew me to Iraq.

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Baghdad today. He is touring the Middle East to reassure allies amid shifting U.S. declarations of its plans for Syria. NPR's Jane Arraf joins us from Baghdad. Hi there, Jane.

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

It had been years since anyone had seen an American military commander walking around the streets of downtown Baghdad.

So when Marine Brig. Gen. Austin Renforth went with his Iraqi counterpart for a tour of the city's most crowded neighborhoods on Friday, it wasn't clear what kind of reception he would get.

Sixteen years after the United States and its coalition partners invaded Iraq, most Iraqis still blame the U.S. for disbanding the Iraqi army and for the security vacuum and devastating civil war that followed.

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Naser al-Shimary is waiting at the arrivals gate at Baghdad's international airport. He says he's so nervous his "heart is skipping beats."

"Last time I held my wife and son was May 2017," says Shimary, 29, speaking English with an American accent. "That was the last time I got to kiss them and hold them."

Mohaned Ahmed is standing on scaffolding at the ancient site of Babylon, dipping water into a bucket and sponging the bricks around a stone relief showing a dragon with a serpent's head.

The image is so well defined it looks as if it might have been made yesterday instead of more than 2,000 years ago. But below it, the bricks and mortar of one of the ancient world's grandest cities are disintegrating.

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The humanitarian situation in Yemen is worsening, with millions of children at risk of starvation and fighting intensifying despite international pressure for a cease-fire in the country's civil war, according to a senior United Nations official who last week visited the rebel-held port of Hodeidah.

A bidding war at Christie's this week sent the price of a 3,000-year-old stone relief from $7 million to more than $28 million, setting a world record for ancient Assyrian artworks and raising fears among some archaeologists that soaring prices will fuel the market for looted antiquities as well as legally acquired ones.

Kurdistan Election

Sep 30, 2018

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