Military officer: No rise in Iran threat

Wednesday, May 15, 2019
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, right, talks with Charge D'affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad Joey Hood after he arrived in Baghdad for meetings. A senior officer in the U.S.-led military coalition combating the Islamic State said Tuesday there is no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq or Syria.
Mandel Ngan ~ Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- The U.S.-led military coalition combating the Islamic State group has detected no greater recent threat to its troops in Iraq or Syria from forces backed by Iran, a senior coalition officer said Tuesday, in an apparent contradiction of Trump administration claims.

"No, there's been no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria," British Maj. Gen. Chris Ghika told reporters at the Pentagon in a video conference from coalition headquarters in Baghdad. "We're aware of their presence, clearly, and we monitor them, along with a whole range of others because that's the environment we're in."

His comment comes amid heightened tensions in the Middle East, including assertions by administration officials they have detected signs Iranian or Iranian-backed proxies were preparing for possible attacks against American interests in the Mideast. The administration cited the threats as the reason for expediting the deployment of an aircraft carrier strike group and other military resources to the region.

"There are a substantial number of militia groups in Iraq and Syria, and we don't see any increased threat from any of them at this stage," Ghika said.

The U.S. has about 5,000 troops in Iraq and about 2,000 in Syria as part of the coalition campaign to defeat the Islamic State group there.

Last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo abruptly canceled a scheduled visit to Germany to fly to Iraq and show support for the Iraqi government and underscore its need to protect Americans in the country.

"We wanted to let them know about the increased threat stream that we had seen and give them a little bit more background on that so they could ensure that they were doing all they could to provide protection for our team," he said as he left Iraq.

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