US Centcom contradicts British General on Iranian threat

Global coalition against ISIS continues to monitor all militant groups in the region

Iran-backed Hezbollah Brigade militiamen fire weapons against ISIL militants in Husaybah, Iraq. AP Photo
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The US Central Command , which directs military presence in the Middle East, has publicly contradicted the deputy military commander of the global coalition against ISIS on the Iranian threat in Iraq and Syria.

The statement from Centcom on Tuesday, issued almost six hours after Maj Gen Chris Ghika, the deputy military commander of the global coalition against ISIS, gave a press conference, said that his comments on Iran’s threat not increasing in Iraq and Syria “run counter” to US intelligence.

The public disagreement reflected the sensitivity of the matter to Washington and inside the US military.

Speaking from Baghdad at the press conference, Maj Gen Ghika said there was “no change in their posture since the recent exchange between the US and Iran, and we hope and expect that that will continue".

Maj Gen Ghika said the coalition monitored all groups, including the Popular Mobilisation Forces, an Iraqi state-sponsored umbrella group of about 40 militias.

“We monitor them all. Iranian-backed forces are clearly one of them and I am not going to go into the detail of it, but there are a substantial number of militia groups in Iraq and Syria," he said.

"We don't see an increased threat from many of them at this stage."

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Iraq a week ago in response to intelligence information of possible Iranian attacks on US forces, but no change in the threat level was reported.

Maj Gen Ghika insisted that the coalition and the US were on the same page, despite his statements seeming to be at odds with those of the White House.

"I said there are a range of threats to American and coalition forces in this part of the world," he said.

"There always have been, that is why we have a very robust range of force protection measures.”

In the past 10 days, the US has increased its military presence in the region after it claimed it had received intelligence about a possible plot by the Iranian government against US troops in Iraq.

On Sunday, four vessels near Fujairah Port were hit in a sabotage operation and on Tuesday the Yemeni Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for a drone attack on two Saudi pumping stations and pipeline near Riyadh.

The US has sent two warships with  B-52 and F-35 jets to the region as deterrence against any attack.