US mustn’t be Iraq ‘air force for Shiite militias’: Petraeus

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Gen. David Petraeus.

Gen. David Petraeus.

LONDON: The man who led the US troop surge that preceded Washington’s exit from Iraq after a costly eight-year war says there should not even be US air support without major change in Baghdad.

The comments from Gen. David Petraeus, who commanded US troops in Mosul during a long military and intelligence career, came as the Shiite-led government in Baghdad formally asked for air support.

Petraeus warned that Washington risked becoming an “air force for Shiite militias,” if it agreed to the request for support from Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki.

The former top general and Central Intelligence Agency chief said there needed to be a radical change of politics in Baghdad to reflect Iraq’s multi-confessional, multi-ethnic make-up before any possibility of renewed US intervention should be considered.

“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 is representative of, and responsive to, all elements of Iraq,” he said. “This cannot be the United States being the air force for Shiite militias, or a Shiite on Sunni Arab fight.”

Petraeus always warned during his service in Iraq, which began in Mosul, that the resentments of the Sunni Arab former elite needed to be addressed.

“If America is to support (Iraq), then it would be in support of a government against extremists, rather than one side of what could be a sectarian civil war,” he told a conference in London.

Washington pulled out its troops from Iraq at the end of 2011, ending an intervention that cost some 4,500 US lives and billions of tax dollars.

President Barack Obama has come under mounting criticism from his Republican opponents in Congress that he rushed to complete the pullout to meet a campaign pledge, without protecting the US investment and without regard for the geopolitical consequences.

Meanwhile, scholars led by influential Qatar-based cleric Yusuf Al-Qardawi urged Arab and Islamic states on Thursday to protect Sunnis in Iraq.

“Sunnis have suffered great injustice and severe exclusion, so it is natural to make a popular revolution against injustice,” the International Union of Muslim Scholars said in a statement issued from Doha in Qatar.

“The union calls for Arab and Islamic states to prevent any aggression against Sunnis in Iraq, and for the consolidation of efforts to achieve the legitimate rights of all Iraqis.”

The union of Muslim scholars added in its statement: “There’s a need for unity for all honorable Iraqis, and a need for them to stand against the danger of sectarian strife and work to stop fighting and start reconciliation,”.

Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki announced that volunteers who fight in “hot areas” with the country’s security forces will be given 750,000 Dinars ($644) per month, state television said on Thursday.

Non-fighting volunteers will be paid 500,000 Dinars ($450) and all volunteers will be given an extra 125,000 Dinar ($107) food allowance per month, the statement said.

Insurgents took two cities in northern Iraq last week and many soldiers have fled their posts during the continuing offensive, straining the army.

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