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To Make Sense Of Soleimani Assassination, Media Turn To Disgraced Iraq War General David Petraeus

Following President Donald Trump’s assassination of Iranian General Qassim Soleimani, several United States media outlets have turned to retired military general David Petraeus for “expert” commentary on Iran because he was Soleimani’s “adversary” when he ran U.S. Central Command.

Petraeus appeared on CBS’ Sunday morning news program, “Face The Nation,” on January 5. He praised Trump for restoring “deterrence” by authorizing a lethal drone strike in Baghdad.

During the Iraq War, Petraeus commanded military forces that carried out the “surge,” which was widely celebrated. Yet, in retrospect, it is rather clear that U.S. forces implemented a strategy of ethnic cleansing, where Shiite militias were allowed to expel hundreds of thousands of Sunni Arabs from Baghdad.

Shiite militias in Iraq established secret detention centers, where opponents of the U.S. occupation were tortured, and Colonel James Steele, a veteran of U.S. “dirty wars” in Central America, was enlisted to oversee what essentially operated as paramilitary death squads. Colonel James Coffman worked alongside Steele and reported to Petraeus.

The U.S. government largely views Shiite militias in Iraq as proxies for Iran. Back in 2015, Petraeus told the Washington Post 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.”

Not only did Petraeus empower Shiite militias to torture and ethnically cleanse neighborhoods in Iraq, but when he was CIA director under President Barack Obama, he leaked top secret information to Washington Post reporters in March 2011. He also lied to the FBI and improperly handled highly-classified “Black Books,” which contained identities of covert officers, war strategy, intelligence capabilities, and notes from discussions with President Barack Obama.

Petraeus granted access to his biographer, Paula Broadwell, with whom he was having an affair. Although he was forced to resign from his position as head of the CIA, he served no jail time and was issued a modest $40,000 fine.

All of the above would disqualify most people from invitations to appear on news programs. It would lead editors and producers to question their credibility. But among a media and political establishment that easily forgives and forgets the misconduct—or criminal acts—of high-ranking officials, Petraeus’ insights on military operations and foreign policy are still sought after.

On “Face The Nation,” Petraeus argued prior to the assassination the U.S. government lost the “component of deterrence that was seen as American will.” He selectively recalled events that had transpired between the U.S. and Iran in the past year.

“Our drone, a hundred-thirty-million-dollar drone is shot down, [no] significant response; five percent of the world’s oil production taken out of operation; numerous attacks on shipping and then attacks on our forces; ultimately, of course, killing an American and wounding four of our soldiers,” Petraeus said. “So, ultimately, the President appears to have decided that it was necessary to take an action to shore up deterrence to show that we were not going to accept this.”

As the Associated Press reported, on December 29, U.S. military forces launched strikes that killed 25 people and wounded dozens of fighters. The military said it targeted the Iranian-backed Kataeb Hezbollah militia for launching a rocket attack on December 24 that allegedly killed an American contractor stationed at a U.S. military base in Kirkuk. However, Kataeb Hezbollah insisted their fighters were not in the area when the attack was launched.

Protesters responded to the attack with a demonstration at the U.S. embassy in the Green Zone on December 31. The walls of the embassy were breached as they demanded an end to the U.S. military occupation. Days later, Soleimani was assassinated, along with Abu Mehdi Al Muhandis of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) of Iraq.

Soleimani And The Fight Against The Islamic State

For the most part, no media outlet bothered to disclose that Petraeus works for the private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. (KKR), which has assets in the military industrial-complex. KKR recently added Novaria Group, an aerospace contractor, to capitalize on Trump’s increased military spending.

“We’d never gone after [Soleimani] before, although I hasten to add that he never dared set foot inside Iraq to my recollection, when I was commanding the surge, nor in the time that I was the commander of U.S. Central Command,” Petraeus declared on “Face The Nation.” “He only really became visible in the way that he has in more recent years after the Arab Spring, supporting the murderous Bashar al-Assad in Syria and then very actively supporting the Iranian-supported militia inside Iraq that were helping to contend with the Islamic State invasion of northern and western Iraq.”

Part of this remark was echoed in an NBC News column from Bill Rivers, the speechwriter for former U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis, who asserted assassinating Soleimani was the “smart thing to do.”

“Soleimani intervened to salvage the Syrian civil war for President Bashar al-Assad, organizing more than 100,000 fighters to prop up the crumbling, corrupt regime and planning the infamous campaign to retake the city of Aleppo from Syrian rebels in 2016. That siege redefined carnage in the modern era, while the civil war overall sent thousands of refugees fleeing to Europe,” Rivers wrote.

Rivers entirely ignores the fact that al Qaida-linked fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra controlled parts of Aleppo. Secretary of State John Kerry said during a 2016 meeting with Syrian regime change activists, “Nusra makes it hard. Nusra and Daesh [ISIS] both make it hard, because you have this extreme element out there and unfortunately some of the opposition has kind of chosen to work with them.”

Kerry revealed that the U.S. watched Islamic State forces grow in strength because they believed they could “manage” the threat, and it would hopefully force Assad to negotiate an end to his administration in Syria.

“We were watching. We saw that Daesh was growing in strength, and we thought Assad was threatened. We thought, however, we could probably manage, that Assad would then negotiate. Instead of negotiating, he got [Vladimir] Putin to support him.”

Both Russia and Iran intervened to prevent the collapse of a government. In spite of U.S. operations, they mounted operations to ensure the Islamic State did not take control of more territory in Syria and become an even greater threat to the region.

Soleimani and the militia groups he led played a key role in defeating the Islamic State in Iraq, but Petraeus denies this reality. “Make no mistake about it, those militia and the Iraqi security forces could not have defeated the Islamic State in Iraq without our enabling forces, our drones, our precision munitions, and our intelligence and advice.”

Yet, as PBS reported, when the U.S. was gone and Iraq was threatened by the Islamic State, the PMF—armed, funded, and trained by Iran—saved the country.

Correspondent Reza Sayeh said, “It was Soleimani who led many of the PMF brigades in a three-year ground campaign that overpowered ISIS and eventually set the stage for Iraqi forces to defeat the extremist group in Mosul, its last major stronghold in Iraq.”

Blaming Iran For The Rise Of The Islamic State

Robin Wright, a contributing writer to The New Yorker, featured Petraeus in her coverage of the Soleimani assassination. Wright helped Petraeus spread propaganda about the number of American troops Soleimani allegedly killed.

“To counter U.S. influence in Iraq between 2003 and 2011, he provided Iraqi militants with rockets, bombs, and explosively formed projectiles that could slice through the armor of an American M1 tank. ‘He has the blood of hundreds of Americans on his hands,’ Petraeus said.”

Journalist Gareth Porter wrote in June 2019, “After General David Petraeus took over as commander of coalition forces in Iraq in January 2007,” his command argued “Iran was providing Shiite militias with the powerful roadside bombs called Explosively Formed Penetrators (EFPs) that were causing [an] increasing number of U.S. casualties in Iraq. But the evidence proved otherwise.”

Porter added, “Hezbollah—not Iran —had been well known as the world’s most knowledgeable designer and user of EFPs.” And, a 2007 military briefing later confirmed “Iraqi extremist group members” and not Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) were behind the explosives.

“Major General Rick Lynch, the U.S. commander for southern Iraq, admitted in a July 6 press briefing, his troops had not ‘captured anybody that [they could] directly tie back to Iran,’” he wrote.

NPR also had Petraeus on their “Weekend Edition” on Sunday, January 5. Host Sarah McCammon asked the retired general about his role in overseeing militias that developed into paramilitary death squads.

MCCAMMON: You mentioned the Shia militia’s general. But there are those who see your role as instrumental in the influence of the Shia militias inside Iraq’s U.S.-backed security forces because they were absorbed into the police. How do you respond to that?

PETRAEUS: Well, there’s no question that, again, there was a presence of these different militias that was emerging during my time as a three-star. There is also no question that I insisted on the removal of key leaders—all of the brigadier generals and above in the police forces, for example. There was—these were actually paramilitary police forces, not just cops on the beat—two full divisions of them.

We would refuse to reconstitute these forces, to retrain them, to fill them back up with people, equipment and weapons and so forth until the toxic leaders were removed. Sadly, those leaders were returned to their positions several years later. And unfortunately, these toxic leaders were a large part of the undoing of Iraq that allowed the Islamic State to get back up on its feet and ultimately to come back into Iraq and to defeat the Iraqi security forces in the north and the west.

But revelations based on evidence of torture—contained in military incident reports published by WikiLeaks and disclosed by U.S. Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning—showed Petraeus looked the other way when he learned of this brutality.

Even former British Prime Minister Tony Blair conceded the 2003 invasion of Iraq fueled the rise of the Islamic State. “Of course, you can’t say those of us who removed Saddam [Hussein] in 2003 bear no responsibility for the situation in 2015.”

Journalist Patrick Cockburn previously wrote, “U.S. policy has an Alice in Wonderland absurdity about it, everything being the opposite of what it appears to be. The so-called ‘coalition of the willing’ is, in practice, very unwilling to fight [the Islamic State], while those hitherto excluded, such as Iran, the Syrian government, Hezbollah and the PKK, are the ones actually fighting.”

That largely explains why Petraeus hypes the effectiveness of U.S. military strategy while seeking to discredit operations by groups the U.S. opposes, even though they achieved success.

On January 5, after the Iraqi parliament backed a resolution to expel U.S. troops, the Boston Herald spoke with Petraeus. He said the outcome was “disappointing, given all that we did over the years to defeat (al Qaida in Iraq) and then to enable defeat of ISIS” and that the vote is “very concerning given that many Iraqis—if not most—do not want to see Iraq ‘Lebanonized,’—that is, controlled by Iran.”

Petraeus further suggested “a portion of the Iraqi Parliament is controlled by Iran and many others are intimidated by Iranian proxy militias.”

This is the same imperial hubris that the U.S. media fell for when the Bush administration lied America into a war in Iraq. Neoconservatives like Petraeus accuse Iraqi politicians of being ungrateful, like they should thank the U.S. for the sanctions, bloodshed, and terrorism that was unleashed on their country.

The reality is Iraqis would like to be free from U.S. military occupation because all these forces do is attract extremist groups, which want to fight a superpower viewed as responsible for countless acts of aggression in the past decades. If they have to look to neighboring countries for help in restoring their sovereignty and independence, they will.

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."