US Repositions Troops in Iraq, Preparing for Fight Against Iran

Administration divided on next steps against Iraqi militias

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Initially announced weeks ago, the US withdrawal of troops from western Iraq and concentration in the east looks more and more like preparation for another confrontation with neighboring Iran. Recent reports suggest that is one policy being advocated.

On Friday, reports suggested that the Pentagon had been ordered, by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, to start planning to wipe out certain Iraqi militias which they believe are Iranian proxies. Officials say the administration is increasingly divided on the plan.

Lt. Gen. Robert White was very averse to this idea, saying it would require the US bring in thousands of more troops, and divert from existing missions. He also warned it risks starting a war with Iran, which at least some of the proponents consider very much the point.

Indications since then are that the militia in question is likely Kataib Hezbollah, one that the US has repeatedly attacked. The militia has retaliated from past US attacks, and that seems to be putting them on track for endless escalation.

The officials advocating an attack want to present this offensive campaign as “retaliation,” but are leaving other US troops in the area to be targets for further militia retaliation. President Trump has yet to decide if he will approve the attack, but is letting planning continue.

Trump has opposed attacks on Iran recently, believing the world would be critical of the US for starting a fight during the coronavirus. Pompeo and others have argued that the coronavirus may make it impossible for Iran to respond, and give them the opportunity to attack with impunity.

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Iran is seen again as not wanting a big fight with the US, but is also seen to be watching US troop movements very carefully, fully aware that a US attack is at least a possibility, and certainly one that is up for debate.