British officer: No rise in Iran threat

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 that they have detected signs that Iranian or Iranian-backed proxies were preparing for possible attacks against American interests in the Mideast.

“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.

At the White House, President Donald Trump dismissed a report in The New York Times that the White House is reviewing military plans against Iran that could result in sending 120,000 U.S. troops to the Middle East if Iran attacks American forces or steps up work on nuclear weapons.

Trump, speaking to reporters, said he would “absolutely” be willing to send troops, but has not planned for that and hopes he won’t have to.

He said that if the U.S. were going to get into a military conflict with Iran, “we’d send a hell of a lot more” troops.

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.

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