BEIRUT (Reuters) - Comments attributed to the most senior U.S. army official about the possibility of Iraq being partitioned are irresponsible and ignorant, the media office of the country’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Thursday.
General Ray Odierno, who retires as U.S. Army chief of staff on Friday, told reporters in Washington on Wednesday that partition “could happen” but was for the region, politicians and diplomats to figure out.
“It might be the only solution, but I’m not ready to say that yet,” said Odierno, who has spent most of the last two decades dealing with conflict in Iraq.
The seizure of swathes of Iraq’s north and west over the past year by Islamic State militants has fueled speculation about the country splintering into Shi’ite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish regions.
Abadi, who took office a year ago, is a moderate Shi’ite Islamist who has sought reconciliation between Shi’ites and Sunnis but has struggled to build broad political support for change.
His media office said it was surprised at the comments attributed to Odierno, which it considered “irresponsible and reflecting ignorance of the Iraqi situation”.
Abadi introduced sweeping reforms this week aimed at ending a setup that shares out government posts on ethnic and sectarian lines.
But his government’s reliance on Shi’ite militia and volunteers rather than the ineffectual national army as a unifying military force has deepened sectarian mistrust without pushing the rebels back much.
Addressing his last Pentagon news conference, Odierno also said the fight against Islamic State was at a stalemate and the U.S. military should consider putting support troops on the ground with Iraqi forces if it saw no progress in coming months.
Reporting by Stephen Kalin; Editing by John Stonestreet