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Jane Arraf

Jane Arraf covers Egypt, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East for NPR News. She is based in NPR's bureau in Cairo, Egypt.

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 live the war in Iraq in 2003; covered the battles for Fallujah, Najaf, and Samarra; and was embedded with US forces during the military surge in Iraq. She has also covered India, Haiti, Bosnia, and Afghanistan and did extensive magazine and newspaper reporting and 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.

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There's a light rain falling in the hills around Masoud Barzani's palace north of Irbil. Last week, Barzani stepped down as president of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan regional government in northern Iraq, a position he's held for 12 years. But the building, with its soaring staircases and footsteps of staff echoing through vast marble hallways, is still distinctly presidential.

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Mustafa Ahmed Abed has a few words of English left from his time as a young child in the United States. These days, he doesn't have anyone to practice them with, so he repeats words to himself over and over as he walks home from school in Fallujah. With one leg, the journey on crutches takes him an hour.

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The recess bell rings at the Akha elementary school in Mosul and children come thundering out of the classroom. It's the first day of school.

An ordinary scene, except it hasn't happened for three years in this city. Iraqi forces drove ISIS fighters out of Mosul earlier this year in a battle that destroyed huge parts of the northern city, including hundreds of schools.

"None of us went to school when ISIS was here — we stayed at home," says Ali, who is in sixth grade. "It feels good to be back."

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In fractured, postwar Iraq, Jalal Talabani — who died Tuesday in a German hospital at age 83 — had the ability to solve some of the country's most serious problems over lunch.

As a skilled politician with a history of inclusiveness and a reservoir of charm, when he invited leaders from feuding factions, they came and they talked to each other. Not because he was president, but because he was "Mam Jalal" — the Kurdish moniker meaning "uncle" that was given to him as a boy.

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Iraqi Kurdish leaders plan to hold a controversial independence referendum on Monday. Kurds are expected to overwhelmingly vote in favor of separating from Iraq. The United States and other allies have warned them not to go ahead.

Here's what to know:

Who and where are the Kurds?

An estimated 30 million Kurds live in territory overlapping northern Iraq, Turkey, Iran and Syria. They are the fourth-biggest ethnic group in the region after Arabs, Persians and Turks.

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Nine months after Iraqi forces drove ISIS from eastern Mosul, the east side's main street has come back to life. Wedding convoys decorated with ribbons and flowers honk their horns. Female drivers pull up in front of pastry shops and stalls piled high with fresh fruit.

Young men cruise by with car stereos tuned to upbeat music instead of ISIS radio and lectures on Islam. Signs advertise new pool halls and shisha lounges.

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