Washington, November 8, 2014 (Reuters)  President Barack Obama has approved sending up to 1,500 more troops to Iraq, roughly doubling the number of U.S. forces on the ground to advise and retrain Iraqis in their battle against the militant group Islamic State, U.S. officials said on Friday. Obama's decision greatly expands the scope of the U.S. campaign and the geographic distribution of American forces, some of whom will head into Iraq's fiercely contested western Anbar province for the first time to act as advisors. It also raises the stakes in Obama's first interactions with Congress after his Democratic Party was thumped by Republicans in mid-term elections this week. The White House said it would ask Congress for $1.6 billion for a new "Iraq Train and Equip Fund."

Pentagon spokesman

Rear Admiral John Kirby said those funds would need to be approved before the first additional forces headed to Iraq, something one official speculated could happen in just weeks. Kirby told a Pentagon news briefing that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was urging Congress to approve the funding as soon as possible. It is part of a larger $5.6 billion supplemental spending request.

Alarmed by the advance of Islamic State militants across Iraq, Obama began sending non-combatant troops back to Iraq in the summer for the first time since he withdrew U.S. forces from the country in 2011. Officials denied the troop buildup amounted to "mission creep" and said it was justified partly because of Iraqi Shi'ite efforts to reach out to Sunni tribesmen after the election of Shi'ite Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
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