Gen. David Petraeus, who commanded US troops during the 2007-2008 surge in the Iraq war, believes Iran-backed Shia militias are a bigger threat to Iraq than the Islamic State militants they are fighting.
"The foremost threat to Iraq's long-term stability and the broader regional equilibrium is not the Islamic State, it is Shiite militias, many backed by — and some guided by — Iran," Petraeus told Liz Sly of The Washington Post.
Iran's military mastermind, Qassem Suleimani, has played pivotal roles in the deployment of Iranian assets against the Islamic State (aka Islamic State, ISIL, Daesh) in Iraq. Suleimani was present during the successful siege of Amerli in August, and he is on the frontlines of the battle against ISIS in Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown.
"Yes, 'Hajji Qassem,' our old friend," Petraus said to Sly. "I have several thoughts when I see the pictures of him, but most of those thoughts probably aren't suitable for publication in a family newspaper like yours."
Following the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, and especially during the time Petraeus-led the surge, Suleimani directed "a network of militant groups that killed hundreds of Americans in Iraq," as detailed by Dexter Filkins in The New Yorker.
"Iran and its Iraqi proxies have been carving out a zone of influence in eastern Iraq for well over a decade," Michael Knights, a fellow at the Washington Institute, wrote recently. "And this zone," as Knights said US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey recently noted, "is expanding."
To assist in the siege of Tikrit and further military operations against ISIS, Iran has moved advanced rockets and artillery systems into Iraq, The New York Times reported this week.
These systems are introducing a new level of sophistication into the Iraqi warzone and could further inflame sectarian tensions as the artillery is often imprecise and has the potential to cause collateral damage.
"The current Iranian regime is not our ally in the Middle East," Petraeus said. "It is ultimately part of the problem, not the solution. The more the Iranians are seen to be dominating the region, the more it is going to inflame Sunni radicalism and fuel the rise of groups like the Islamic State."
Last month, Suleimani gloated: "We are witnessing the export of the Islamic Revolution throughout the region. From Bahrain and Iraq to Syria, Yemen and North Africa."
Ali Khedery, who served as a special assistant to five US ambassadors and a senior adviser to three heads of US Central Command between 2003 and 2009, noted that the "fundamental identity" of the Shia militias was "built around a sectarian narrative rather than loyalty to the state."
More From Business Insider:
- Russia controls this vital strategic exclave in the heart of NATO-allied eastern Europe
- Saudi Arabia is building up forces near Yemen's border
- Russia Is Putting State-Of-The-Art Missiles In Its Westernmost Baltic Exclave
- Here's The Navy's Troubled Plan For Rescuing Its Failed 'Ship-Of-The-Future'
- SWEDEN: Russian Spies And What They're Preparing Are Our Biggest Threat