Former CIA Director David Petraeus, who was in Iraq last week for the Sulaimani Forum, answered questions from the Washington Post’s Liz Sly on “the mistakes, the prosecution and the prospects of the war against the Islamic State.”

The main takeaway is that it’s Iran and the Iranian-backed Shiite militias who the United States ultimately has to worry about long term in Iraq, not ISIS:

Petraues is particularly concerned with reports of “atrocities” committed by these Shiite militias as they battle ISIS’ Sunni fighters:

I am deeply concerned by reports of sectarian atrocities — in particular by the Shiite militias as they move into Sunni areas previously held by the Islamic State. Kidnappings and reprisal killings, mass evictions of civilians from their homes — these kinds of abuses are corrosive to what needs to be accomplished.

Petraeus also blames Prime Minster Malaki for much of Iraq’s current predicament:

But he does wonder what might have been if the U.S. had kept troops in Iraq after 2010:

Petraeus is also worried about Syria, likening it to Chernobyl spewing “radioactive instability and extremist ideology over the entire region” “until it is capped.”

More on Syria:

Any strategy to stabilize the region thus needs to take into account the challenges in both Iraq and Syria.  It is not sufficient to say that we’ll figure them out later.

So … What exactly is our Syria policy again?

And this is great. Petraeus has particularly harsh words for Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, who is reportedly commanding Shiite militias in the fight against ISIS:

Petraeus has had prior dealings with Soleimani, and told this story from 2008:

In the midst of the fight, I received word from a very senior Iraqi official that Qassem Soleimani had given him a message for me. When I met with the senior Iraqi, he conveyed the message:  “General Petraeus, you should be aware that I, Qassem Soleimani, control Iran’s policy for Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, and Afghanistan.”  The point was clear:  He owned the policy and the region, and I should deal with him.  When my Iraqi interlocutor asked what I wanted to convey in return, I told him to tell Soleimani that he could “pound sand.”

If only our policy to Iran was as clear as “pound sand” today, we’d probably be in a better spot.

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