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World

Evaluating The Evidence Of 'Imminent Attacks'

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

The Trump administration says it killed Qassem Soleimani because it had intelligence that he was plotting major attacks against U.S. interests. The powerful Iranian military leader died in a U.S. drone strike Friday in Baghdad, and Iran has promised revenge. The Trump administration has not shared the intelligence it had on Soleimani, and critics are asking whether they should trust a president who's repeatedly criticized the work of U.S. intelligence agencies. We have new developments in the region this morning. And to help us sort this all out, NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre joins us in the studio. Good morning, Greg.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hi, Sarah.

MCAMMON: So what's the latest today?

MYRE: Well, the Iraqi parliament held a session this morning. And just recently, they voted calling for the departure of U.S. troops from Iraq. So symbolically, this is a very big deal. It's not binding. It does need to be approved by the Iraqi government, which is currently looking for a new prime minister. They just have a caretaker at the moment. But the new prime minister will face pressure to follow up on this. It certainly complicates things for the U.S., which has about 5,000 troops there. And President Trump has said previously that he does want to keep some troops in Iraq to keep an eye on Iran. So this could make life difficult for him.

MCAMMON: The Trump administration says they killed Qassem Soleimani because he was planning imminent attacks. What are you hearing about this?

MYRE: So one of the first things we're hearing from security officials is that Soleimani was in charge of groups that were already carrying out attacks. There have been a number of rocket attacks on bases where U.S. troops are side by side with Iraqi forces. And they say they had very solid intelligence that Soleimani was working on an attack in the coming weeks or days. Now, they're not sharing details, so we're really not in a position to judge. But potential targets would include U.S. embassies in the Middle East, the tens of thousands of U.S. forces in the region and private U.S. citizens, who could be vulnerable to kidnapping.

MCAMMON: From what you're hearing, Greg, was the killing of Soleimani part of any broader strategy on the part of the Trump administration, or could this just be reverse engineering, coming up with the rationale after the fact?

MYRE: Well, we're certainly hearing Democrats pressing that point. The White House had to formally notify Congress about this action. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that it's really raised more questions than it answered. They weren't getting enough information. So Trump has been pursuing this sort of maximum-pressure campaign against Iran, but the goal has been murky. He says he doesn't want regime change there and that'd he'd be open to talks. But these kinds of actions and this pressure that he's putting on Iran has really killed any possible of negotiations at this point.

MCAMMON: And big picture, there's lots of talk about the possibility now of war with Iran. Is that a serious possibility, or is that talk overblown?

MYRE: Well, in the sense of sending a big U.S. force there, that seems highly unlikely. Trump has certainly said he doesn't want a war. wants Iran says it doesn't want a war. But Iran has other things that it could do - cyberattacks, taking actions to redevelop its nuclear program. So there's a number of things we could see short of violence that will continue to escalate this conflict.

MCAMMON: That's NPR's Greg Myre. Thank you so much.

MYRE: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.