Iraq deployments on hold until Congress provides $5.6 billion

The Obama administration will not send an additional 1,500 troops to Iraq until Congress approves its $5.6 billion request to pay for the deployment, the Pentagon said Monday.

Defense officials said the White House had made the decision to not send the troops until after a congressional vote.

They said the White House had legal authority to send the troops to Iraq to fight militants with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) without a vote, but that the administration wanted to secure action from Congress first.

“We need the funding in order to begin this phase of the operation,” Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren said on Monday. “The 1,500 personnel that we announced on Friday will not begin to flow until this $5.6 billion dollars is approved.”

A successful vote would provide some congressional buy-in for the deployment, which would double the number of U.S. troops in Iraq and is sure to raise questions about mission creep. In June, President Obama sent 1,600 troops to Iraq. 

The deployment of 1,500 additional U.S. forces would bring the total troop count in Iraq to 3,200 forces, including the 100 who are at the Baghdad Embassy with the State Department. 

The Pentagon announced plans for the additional deployment on Friday as the White House made the funding request to Congress.

The plan will also be contingent on the Iraqi government providing funds for the training, Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said Friday.  

Administration officials say they expect Congress to approve the new funding request next month, but several lawmakers have already indicated getting congressional approval may not be a smooth process.

Sen. Patrick Murphy (D-Conn.) on Sunday said he was worried about mission creep.

“These 1,500 troops are ultimately just going to be a temporary Band-Aid if there isn't a fully inclusive government inside Baghdad,” he told CNN. “I want to make sure that this is a realistic mission.

“My hope is that when we get back, we're going to have a full debate on this,” he added. “And I think a lot of us are going to be very reluctant to support this kind of infusion of ground troops, absent some suggestion, some evidence that the Iraqis are doing what's necessary politically to complement this major infusion of American military resources.”

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) was also critical of the funding request, saying on Friday that he remained “concerned” that Obam’s strategy for defeating ISIS was insufficient.

“I would urge the President to reconsider his strategy and clearly explain how this additional funding supports a new direction,” said McKeon, who is expected to press Defense Secretary Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelThe Hill's 12:30 Report The Hill's 12:30 Report Billionaires stopping climate change action have a hold on Trump, GOP MORE and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey at a Thursday hearing.

Administration officials deny mission creep and argue the additional forces would augment the existing advise-and-assist mission.

However, the additional forces will allow the U.S. and coalition partners to spread out throughout Iraq — which could bring U.S. forces closer to the enemy, especially in the contested province of Anbar.

While U.S. forces will work at the brigade commander level for the mission, they will work directly with Iraqi forces at a lower level, in everything from basic to advanced training. The training sites are expected to be in Anbar, Diyala, Erbil and Baghdad provinces. 

Kirby said it would take eight to 10 months before the Iraqi and Peshmerga forces were trained. That will include time to prepare the training sites and conduct the training.