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David Petraeus issues warning about U.S. military involvement in Iraq

Gen. David Petraeus appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee during a June 2010 confirmation hearing for his nomination to be the top U.S. commander of the war in Afghanistan. Considered one of the brightest military minds in the world, he issued a stark warning Wednesday about the United States getting involved in ongoing fighting in Iraq. (Photo by Linda Davidson / The Washington Post)

The Army general who oversaw the U.S. military’s surge of troops into Iraq in 2007 issued a stark warning Wednesday on any further military action, saying a number of preconditions should be met before Washington intervenes in the growing crisis.

Retired Gen. David Petraeus, who oversaw the war in Iraq from February 2007 to September 2008, told a group at a foreign policy conference in London that the United States should not offer military support unless Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is able to adjust political conditions there so that his Shiite-led government is seen as fair and representative throughout the country.

“If there is to be support for Iraq, it has to be support for a government of Iraq. That is, a government of all the people, and that is representative of and responsive to all elements of Iraq,” Petraeus said, according to The Spectator. “President Obama has been quite clear on this: This cannot be the United States being the air force for Shia militias or a Shia on Sunni Arab fight. It has to be a fight of all of Iraq against extremists.”

Petraeus’s comments stand in contrast to his record of calling for more U.S. troops for both the 2007 surge in Iraq and a similar effort in Afghanistan that began in late 2009, underscoring the complexity of the current situation in Iraq.

Maliki has long been accused of refusing to work with Iraq’s Sunni minority and using military aggression to force obedience. Protests against his actions have grown across Sunni areas of Iraq for at two years.

Petraeus’s comments come as Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.) and other prominent lawmakers call for President Obama to authorize airstrikes in Iraq to break the momentum of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, an extreme offshoot of al-Qaeda that has seized several key cities across the country and threatened security in Baghdad, the capital. Ironically, McCain called for Obama’s national security team to be fired last week, and suggested Obama should consult with Petraeus.

It seems unlikely that Maliki will move toward compromising with the Sunnis any time soon. He admitted on television Wednesday that his government has made some mistakes, but it was not the time to dwell on them.

“What has happened is a setback, but not all setbacks are defeat,” he said, according to The Washington Post. “It’s too late for regret.”