- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The architect of the counter insurgency strategy that helped stabilize Iraq before President Obama took office has a message for the president and his advisers: Do not let the U.S. become the de facto air force for Shia militias.

“This cannot be the United States being the air force for Shia militias, or a Shia on Sunni Arab fight,” said David Petraeus on Wednesday while at the Margaret Thatcher Conference on Liberty in London, the Daily Beast reported.

The former commander of coalition forces in Iraq and former CIA director continued: “It has to be a fight of all of Iraq against extremists, who happen to be Sunni Arabs, but extremists that are wreaking havoc on a country.”

Mr. Petraeus went on to say that if the U.S. acts, it should be done when Iraq’s Shia-led government in Baghdad makes it clear that it desires to become more representative of its people.

“The surge in Iraq, the surge that mattered most was not the surge in forces it was the surge of ideas that changed our strategy,” Mr. Petraeus said, the Daily Beast reported. “You cannot have 18 to 20 percent of the population feeling disenfranchised — feeling that it has no stake in the success of the country. In fact it has a stake in the failure of Iraq. Of course we reached out to the Sunni Arabs.”

The former general went on to say that when U.S. troops left in Iraq in 2011, the country was uniquely poised to heal sectarian divides, but that in many ways the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki squandered gains made by American troops.

SEE ALSO: Iraq formally asks U.S. for airstrikes against ISIL

• Douglas Ernst can be reached at dernst@washingtontimes.com.

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