The Pentagon has ordered military commanders to plan for an escalation of American combat in Iraq, issuing a directive last week to prepare a campaign to destroy an Iranian-backed militia group that has threatened more attacks against American troops.
But the United States’ top commander in Iraq has warned that such a campaign could be bloody and counterproductive and risks war with Iran. In a blunt memo last week, the commander, Lt. Gen. Robert P. White, wrote that a new military campaign would also require thousands more American troops be sent to Iraq and divert resources from what has been the primary American military mission there: training Iraqi troops to combat the Islamic State.
The Pentagon directive and General White’s response — both classified internal military communications — were described by several American officials with direct knowledge of their contents. The exchange comes amid a simmering fight inside the Trump administration over policy toward Iran and the course of America’s war in Iraq, which began just over 17 years ago.