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Coalition officer says no rise in Iran threat in Iraq, Syria; CENTCOM disputes claim

President Donald Trump listens to a question during a meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on May 13, 2019.

EVAN VUCCI/AP

By ROBERT BURNS | Associated Press | Published: May 14, 2019

WASHINGTON — The U.S.-led military coalition combating Islamic State 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. A U.S. military spokesman later disputed the claim.

“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 that they have detected signs that 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 many of them at this stage,” Ghika said.

Later Tuesday, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command issued a statement disputing Ghika’s claim.

“Recent comments from (Operation Inherent Resolve)’s Deputy Commander run counter to the identified credible threats available to intelligence from U.S. and allies regarding Iranian backed forces in the region,” said the statement attributed to U.S. Navy Capt. Bill Urban.

“U.S. Central Command, in coordination with Operation Inherent Resolve, has increased the force posture level for all service members assigned to OIR in Iraq and Syria. As a result, OIR is now at a high level of alert as we continue to closely monitor credible and possibly imminent threats to U.S. forces in Iraq,” the statement 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 ISIS there.

Last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo abruptly canceled a scheduled visit to Germany to fly to Iraq to show support for the Iraqi government and to 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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