Petraeus: Iran a greater threat to Iraq than ISIS
Retired Gen. David Petraeus says that Iranian-backed Shiite militias pose a greater threat to Iraq's long-term peace and security than the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
 
"The current Iranian regime is not our ally in the Middle East. It is ultimately part of the problem, not the solution," Petraeus said in a wide-ranging response to written questions from The Washington Post for a story published Friday. 
 
"The hard-earned progress of the surge was sustained for over three years. What transpired after that, starting in late 2011, came about as a result of mistakes and misjudgments whose consequences were predictable. And there is plenty of blame to go around for that," Petraeus said, reflecting on his time commanding U.S. troops around the 2007 surge.
 
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"Yet despite that history and the legacy it has left, I think Iraq and the coalition forces are making considerable progress against the Islamic State. In fact, I would argue that the foremost threat to Iraq’s long-term stability and the broader regional equilibrium is not the Islamic State; rather, it is Shiite militias, many backed by — and some guided by — Iran," he added. 
 
Questions over Iran's influence in the anti-ISIS fight dogged top Obama administration officials during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing this week, given the current push to secure a deal over the country's nuclear program. The administration maintains it doesn't coordinate with Iran, despite both countries viewing ISIS as a common enemy.
 
Iran poses the twin problems of hostility to U.S. allies as well as "Sunni radicalism and, if we aren't careful, the prospect of nuclear proliferation as well," Petraeus said.
 
He suggested Iranian-backed forces could emerge as the leading power in Iraq — "one that is outside the control of the government and instead answerable to Tehran."
 
Petraeus, who directed U.S. forces at the height of the Iraq war, acknowledged he didn't know whether leaving 10,000 troops in Iraq would have changed the situation, adding, "I certainly wish we could have tested the proposition and kept a substantial force on the ground."
 
He also voiced concern over the situation in Syria, which he described as a "geopolitical Chernobyl."
 
"Neither the Iranians nor [ISIS] are 10 feet tall, but the perception in the region for the past few years has been that of the U.S. on the wane, and our adversaries on the rise. I hope that we can begin to reverse that now," he said.
 
Petraeus caught headlines early this month when it was announced the former CIA director had reached a plea deal over charges he gave classified information to Paula Broadwell, his mistress who wrote a biography of him. White House press secretary Josh Earnest confirmed this week that Petraeus is still advising the White House on Iraq.