General says no rise in Iran threat

The US-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 in an apparent contradiction of Trump administration claims.
'No, there's been no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria,' British Major-General 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.'
He spoke as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said his country is not seeking a conflict with Iran.
Ghika's 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 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 US were going to get into a military conflict with Iran, 'we'd send a hell of a lot more' troops.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared on a visit to Russia the Trump Administration is not seeking a conflict with Iran.
'We fundamentally don't seek a war with Iran,' Pompeo said.
Iran was a key point of discussion between Pompeo and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Later Russian President Vladimir Putin told Pompeo that a telephone conversation with US President Donald Trump this month encouraged him to think relations between Russia and the US might improve.

Putin said his May 3 phone call with Trump 'created the impression that the president intends to restore Russian-American connections and contacts to resolve joint issues that present mutual interests.'
Earlier, Pompeo said in televised remarks at the meeting venue in the Black Sea resort of Sochi that he has come to Russia because President Donald Trump is 'committed to improve this relationship.'
Pompeo also urged Russia to end its support of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
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