May 14, 2019 / 4:44 PM / 10 days ago

UPDATE 1-No increased threat from Iran-backed militia in Iraq, Syria -British general

(Adds details about British general declining to restate remarks)

WASHINGTON, May 14 (Reuters) - There has been no increase in the threat from Iran-backed militia against U.S.-led coalition forces fighting remnants of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, a senior British officer in the coalition told a Pentagon news briefing on Tuesday.

But just minutes later, British Major General Chris Ghika, the coalition’s deputy commander for strategy and information, declined to restate his earlier remarks and added that they did not represent a divergence from increasingly heated warnings coming from Washington, where officials say they see a growing threat from Iran.

Iran says the U.S. is waging “psychological warfare” and a senior Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander on Sunday said Iran would retaliate against any aggressive U.S. moves.

“No, there has been no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria. We are aware of their presence clearly and we monitor them along with a whole range of others because that is the environment we are in,” Ghika said initially.

The United States has sent an aircraft carrier, B-52 bombers and Patriot missiles to the Middle East in a show of force against what U.S. officials have said is a threat to U.S. troops and interests in the region.

“There are a range of Iranian-backed forces ... So it is very difficult to start to delineate between them,” Ghika said later in the Pentagon briefing.

U.S. national security agencies believe proxies sympathetic to or working for Iran may have attacked four tankers off the United Arab Emirates rather than Iranian forces themselves, a U.S. official familiar with the latest U.S. assessments said on Tuesday.

Iran has rejected the allegation and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Tuesday that “extremist individuals” in the U.S. government were pursuing dangerous policies, amid a war of words with Washington over sanctions. (Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; editing by Grant McCool)

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