Retired Gen. David Petraeus, the architect of the 2006 U.S. surge in Iraq, expressed caution on Wednesday about the costs of any U.S. intervention now.
“This cannot be the United States being the air force for Shia militias, or a Shia on Sunni Arab fight,” Petraeus said at the Margaret Thatcher Conference on Liberty in London, according to The Daily Beast.
Petraeus, who also served as the director of the CIA, suggested that if the U.S. gets involved now, it would appear like the Obama administration is siding with the Shia-led government.
“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,” said Petraeus, referring to Sunni militant members of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Although Petraeus advised that the Obama administration should be careful in its response, he didn’t explicitly say he opposes air strikes—an option President Obama is still considering.
Iraq had its chance three years ago, Petraeus said, to avoid the sectarian warfare that is now escalating.
“[Iraq] really had an enormous opportunity back in 2011, it has made progress in certain areas but has not capitalized on that opportunity in the way that we had all hoped that they would,” he said.
Unlike Republicans blasting Obama for pulling U.S. forces out of Iraq that year, Petraeus backed the withdrawal.