- The Washington Times - Monday, June 30, 2014

The former four-star general who led the U.S. troop surge that largely quelled the Iraqi insurgency says he is unsurprised by the return and success of a Sunni Islamist group even more extreme than al Qaeda.

Gen. David H. Petraeus, who resigned as CIA chief and practically vanished from the public arena after an extramarital affair with his biographer was exposed in 2012, reemerged Monday at the 2014 Aspen Ideas Festival to highlight the threat from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

The general made clear his lack of surprise over the rise of ISIL and his distaste for the corner that the U.S. has been squeezed into as it struggles to assist the Iraqi government with battling back the Islamist group.

“I think people who have watched this closely — and I’ve been one of them — have seen this coming,” he said. “There have been camps that were established just across the border of Iraq and Syria. You can see the designs. You could hear what they said. You could see this increasing terrorist violence.”

With the war he left behind several years ago resurfacing again, Gen. Petraeus has also resurfaced to shed light on how a country that was staunchly defended and supported by the U.S. military is slowly unraveling amid a new armed conflict.

In the 2007 surge, Gen. Petraeus not only commanded an increase in U.S. troops but also oversaw a “counterinsurgency” strategy that involved working with tradition-centric Sunni elites threatened by Islamism, effectively using al Qaeda’s ideology against it in the war for Sunni hearts and minds.

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But now ISIL poses a growing threat, not just to the territorial integrity of Iraq but to U.S. allies in the Persian Gulf and across Europe, the general said, adding that Australia and the U.S. may soon be in that threat zone too.

The group, he said, is so dangerous that it “got voted off the island by al Qaeda senior leadership because they’re more extreme than al Qaeda thinks they should be.”

Gen. Petraeus issued the warning just as the Pentagon has begun building up security forces in Baghdad.

Troops on the ground have been instructed to protect the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, establish two joint operations centers, conduct analysis, gather intelligence and share that information with the Iraqi government and the Obama administration.

Although Gen. Petraeus lamented the rocky road that the two governments must take toward the future, he also gave his support to the Obama administration for the decision it made to assist the Iraqi government with defending its “territorial integrity.”

“We have invested a great deal in that country, we have given them hope on two different occasions and I think it’s very legitimate [that] United States officials are supporting a process that is led by Iraqi officials,” he said.

For the past two years, Gen. Petraeus has worked on various projects, which include teaching a course called “The Coming North American Decades” at City University of New York and serving as chairman of investment firm KKR Global Institute.

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