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News Brief: U.S. Troops Are Not Leaving Iraq, Harvey Weinstein Cases

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This could happen to anybody - you accidentally send an email before it's quite ready. But the U.S. military did this on the high stakes question of keeping U.S. troops in Iraq. And the astonishing mistake added to the sense of chaos.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Yeah. Last week, a U.S. airstrike killed an Iranian general on Iraqi soil. Then on Sunday, Iraq's Parliament, in response, voted to expel all foreign forces, which would include U.S. forces. Then on Monday, the U.S. sent a letter suggesting U.S. forces really would go. Then Pentagon officials insisted the letter was a draft sent too soon and that U.S. forces are not leaving.

MARTIN: NPR's Tom Bowman starts our coverage off this morning. So Tom, I don't get it. This is a huge mistake. How does something like this happen?

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Well, we never really got a good explanation. It was a draft letter, again. It was written by one of the American generals - Brigadier General William Seely - to the Iraqi government. It was dated yesterday and not signed. And the letter indicated that U.S. forces would reposition in preparation to leave the country. And it ended by saying the U.S. respects the will of Iraq. So it indicated the troops would leave because of Parliament's decision. But Defense Secretary Esper and Joint Chiefs Chair General Mark Milley said it was a mistake, poorly worded and, again, a draft.

MARTIN: Wow.

BOWMAN: The letter was leaked, and it's caused a lot of confusion in the press, social media and also at the Pentagon, frankly. An official got a copy of the letter, ran it up to General Milley. And again, both Esper and Milley came down to talk to the press and again...

MARTIN: Which is not usual - they don't do that a lot. No. Again, stressed the U.S. is not leaving - at least not yet. And then General Milley came down again after he read the letter. Initially, they said they had not read the letter. He came back and reiterated - listen, it's a draft, poorly worded, a mistake - we're not leaving. It - you know, again, not yet.

MARTIN: So what is - where are the troops going? I mean, you say they're repositioning. What does that mean?

BOWMAN: Right. Well, Esper that he talked about the nonbinding resolution in the Iraqi Parliament. He noted that many Parliament members did not vote, especially Kurds and Sunnis. He did say, though, that some troops would reposition within the country to more defensible areas. Some would actually leave the country to - for Kuwait. Other troops would come in to protect the troops that are there. He also...

MARTIN: But leaving to go to Kuwait - so some will leave the country.

BOWMAN: Right. Some would leave to go to Kuwait. The total number there is roughly 5,000 troops. So the bulk of the troops - at least, you know, right now - will stay there in Iraq. And officials on background told me, listen - we're not sure if all Iraqi leaders want the U.S. to leave. And Esper said, listen - some Iraqi lawmakers and the Iraqi public want the U.S. to remain. He said the U.S. wants a prosperous Iraq and Iran wants to control the country as a proxy. So we're still in this sort of nether zone of exactly what's going on here.

MARTIN: All right - NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman for us this morning. Tom, we appreciate it. Thanks.

BOWMAN: You're welcome.

MARTIN: So what are Iraqis saying about all of this?

INSKEEP: Well, their debate over the U.S. troop presence in their country has taken a bit of a pause because of the funeral proceedings for the Iraqi official who was killed along with Soleimani in last week's drone strike. And there are now reports of mourners who have been killed in a stampede during Soleimani's burial this morning in Iran.

MARTIN: NPR's Jane Arraf is following all of this, joins us now from Baghdad. So we have been watching, in Iran, the procession - the funeral proceedings of Qassem Soleimani. Meanwhile, you, though, Jane, have been watching the funeral processions for the other man who was killed in this drone strike, who was an Iraqi official. Right?

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: He was. He was a very senior Iraqi official - Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. He was the deputy head of paramilitaries in Iraq. And he was the leader of one of the main Iran-backed militias. So when his body arrived from Iran, where it had been taken, crowds and crowds of mourners turned out to the bridge where it was coming across with this flatbed truck that was carrying his coffin draped in flags and covered in flowers. There were huge crowds. But in Iran, meanwhile, Qassem Soleimani's funeral, where millions of people across the country have come out, state TV there in Iran says that people were killed this morning when a stampede broke out at those funeral proceedings in his hometown in southeastern Iran.

In Basra, meanwhile, the speakers who were leading the proceedings denounced the United States. Basra has had a difficult relationship with these militias. They're believed to be responsible for killing hundreds of protesters in anti-government protests, but those protesters are certainly lying low today.

MARTIN: So what does this mean for the decision-making in Baghdad? I mean, we just heard from Tom there the confusion on the Pentagon's part. They - at one point, there was a letter saying - OK, Iraqi Parliament; we hear you. You want us out, we'll go. That was premature, we're now learning. So what is the position of the Iraqi government?

ARRAF: So the confusion over that letter is partly because, under the rules that the U.S. military operates here, they have to get permission for movements like that. So they need to inform the U.S. when they're flying helicopters. And they were, indeed, flying helicopters last night for hours in and out of the Green Zone. A military spokesman here said those were mostly coalition and NATO troops - a few hundred of them - going out to a safer place in the region - and safer because that U.S. base is located in the Green Zone, which is a frequent target of Iran-backed militias.

The background of this, of course, is the political disarray. This drone strike and the outrage over it have made Shia parties, which dominate Iraqi politics, even more powerful. And there is still a lot of outrage to be felt here.

INSKEEP: Of course, there are other forces and other views in Iraq, and we heard one of them on NPR News. We were speaking with Hoshyar Zebari. He's a Kurdish leader. Kurds are among the groups that would like U.S. troops to stay. And let's listen to some of what he had to say in the NPR interview.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

HOSHYAR ZEBARI: Well, we don't want our country to be a battlefield or a place to settle scores between the United States, Iran and others. But let's be realistic; it is happening. And the Iraqi government and the system is in a deep crisis.

INSKEEP: He's saying, look - Iran is very powerful in Iraq; we need the U.S. there as a counterbalance and also to fight ISIS. What do you make of that, Jane Arraf?

ARRAF: Well, that is a great point, and he is the man who negotiated the legal basis for allowing U.S. troops to stay here these past few years. And basically, what it means is that the Kurds - and he is a Kurd - feel very strongly that U.S. troops should stay. This is a very divided country.

MARTIN: Just briefly, Jane - meanwhile, President Trump has said if Iraq insists that U.S. troops are leaving, he's going to put new sanctions on.

ARRAF: Yes, that's a huge fear here as well. A lot of Iraqis have very deep, very bad memories of sweeping sanctions during the 1990s. And that is entering the political equation as well. It's a cautionary tale for many politicians who believe the troops should stay.

MARTIN: NPR's Jane Arraf in Baghdad - thank you, Jane.

ARRAF: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: All right - I want to give you a heads-up that this next topic is going to include descriptions of sexual assaults. It will be disturbing to some listeners.

We're talking about Harvey Weinstein. He has been accused of sexual misconduct by more than 80 women and is now facing criminal charges in California and New York.

INSKEEP: Just hours after the former film executive entered a Manhattan courtroom where he will stand trial for sexual assault, Weinstein was charged with four more counts of rape and sexual battery in Los Angeles.

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JACKIE LACEY: We believe the evidence will show that the defendant used his power and influence to gain access to his victims and then committed violent crimes against them.

INSKEEP: Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced the latest charges against a man whose case helped to spark the #MeToo movement.

MARTIN: Gene Maddaus has been covering the allegations against Weinstein for Variety, and he joins us now from Los Angeles. Thanks for being with us.

GENE MADDAUS: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: What do we know about the new charges?

MADDAUS: There are four charges involving two women who claim that Weinstein sexually assaulted them about two days apart in February of 2013. The first woman is an Italian model who alleges that Weinstein raped her at a hotel and that he subsequently threatened that if she told anybody that he would kill her. I mean, that's why she says she didn't report it at the time. The second woman says that, two days later, she met Weinstein with an acquaintance at another hotel and that Weinstein was able to sort of persuade her to come up to his room and that he sexually assaulted her in the bathroom there.

There are actually, in fact, eight women in total who have come to the Los Angeles authorities with claims like this. And the DA announced yesterday that they were also - that they were not prosecuting three of those cases because they were too old; they were outside of the statute of limitations. But the other three cases are still under investigation.

MARTIN: So Gene, is this just a coincidence that these charges were filed on the same day that the criminal trial in New York started?

MADDAUS: The district attorney said it was a coincidence. I think they have been coordinating, certainly, with the New York prosecutors. So I think pretty clearly they decided that the New York case would go first. They've known about both of these allegations for a couple of years. So you know, they could have charged it earlier, certainly. But I think they waited until the trial got underway in New York just to sort of make it clear that the New York case is going forward first. And then once that's taken care of, they'll come to LA.

MARTIN: Yeah. Is Weinstein responding to the new charges - or his attorneys?

MADDAUS: He has not responded yet. His attorneys or his spokespeople have not responded. But you know, in general of course, they've denied any allegations of rape or sexual assault.

MARTIN: And briefly, what can we expect from the second day of the trial in New York?

MADDAUS: Jury selection is supposed to get underway. There is sort of a new wrinkle, potentially, with the Los Angeles case in that they could ask to increase bail because, arguably, the risk of flight is now greater.

MARTIN: All right - Variety's Gene Maddaus on the Harvey Weinstein trial and new charges coming out of Los Angeles. We appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.