Former Army Gen. David Petraeus, who was recently in Iraq for the first time in more than three years, told a newspaper that Iranian-backed Shia militias are a bigger threat than the Islamic State terror group to long-term stability in Iraq and the region.
Petraeus, who served as Commanding General of Multi-National Force in Iraq during the 2007-2008 surge, told The Washington that he is not too worried about the Sunni terror group Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, as Iraq and the coalition forces are making considerable progress.
"I would argue that the foremost threat to Iraq's long-term stability and the broader regional equilibrium is not the Islamic State; rather, it is Shiite militias, many backed by — and some guided by — Iran," he was quoted as saying.
Petraeus, former CIA director, explained that Shiite militia returned to the streets of Iraq "in response to a fatwa by Shia leader Grand Ayatollah Sistani at a moment of extreme danger."
ISIS, an offshoot of al-Qaeda that wants to establish a caliphate in the Levant region and beyond, has gained control over large swathes of territories in Syria and Iraq and has killed roughly 2,000 people, about two-thirds of them civilians, since last June when it declared its "caliphate."
Petraeus acknowledged that the militias prevented ISIS from continuing their attacks on Baghdad. "Nonetheless, they have, in some cases, cleared not only Sunni extremists but also Sunni civilians and committed atrocities against them," he added.
Therefore, he went on to say, "They (militia) have, to a degree, been both part of Iraq's salvation but also the most serious threat to the all-important effort of once again getting the Sunni Arab population in Iraq to feel that it has a stake in the success of Iraq rather than a stake in its failure."
"Longer term, Iranian-backed Shia militia could emerge as the preeminent power in the country, one that is outside the control of the government and instead answerable to Tehran," he said.
He described the situation in Iraq today, concerning ISIS, as "hard but not hopeless."
Petraeus also said the situation in Syria is worrying as well, describing that country as "a geopolitical Chernobyl."
"Until it is capped, it is going to continue to spew radioactive instability and extremist ideology over the entire region. Any strategy to stabilize the region thus needs to take into account the challenges in both Iraq and Syria. It is not sufficient to say that we'll figure them out later," he warned.
Petraeus has been advising the National Security Council on Iraq and ISIS since last summer, Newsweek reported recently.
However, Justice Department documents show he confessed to keeping highly classified information in his home after stepping down from the CIA and sharing it with his ex-mistress and biographer Paula Broadwell. He admitted to the FBI that he had earlier lied about it.
The classified information he shared with Broadwell included the identities of covert officers, information about war strategy and intelligence capabilities and his conversations with President Obama.