A former top US general has likened war-torn Syria to Humpty Dumpty telling Sky News it was increasingly likely it would “not be able to be put back together again”.
David Petraeus, who as a military commander turned the tide in Iraq before going on to become the director of the CIA, has predicted the conflict-ravaged country would never again operate as a single nation.
Instead, he envisaged Syria split into autonomous regions led by president Bashar al Assad and his Alawite Shia minority, the Syrian Kurds and the Sunni Arabs.
Mr Petraeus also gave a bleak outlook over the chances of stemming the bloody civil war in Syria, which he described as “a geo-political Chernobyl spewing violence, instability and extremism”.
The former CIA chief, who was engulfed in a scandal after mishandling classified information, was speaking during a visit to London.
His comments came as the Syrian military announced it would scale back its bombardment of the city of Aleppo to allow civilians to evacuate besieged rebel-held areas.
The move followed 16 days of airstrikes and shelling that have killed more than 300 civilians and damaged hospitals and water supplies.
Speaking about the future of Syria, Mr Petraeus said: “It’s increasingly appearing likely that Syria may not be able to be put back together again – Humpty Dumpty has fallen and again I am not sure you can piece him back together.
“It is I think more likely now that you could have de facto partition.
“Certainly the Syrian Kurds I think will strive to maintain an autonomous region.”
Mr Petraeus said of the Syrian leader: “He’s certainly trying to extend the areas that he controls to encompass all of Aleppo, which used to be the biggest city in Syria.
“But it’s unclear how much further he feels he can go. This could certainly put the majority pf the population under his control.
“I think it is likely, with agreement or without, you are just going to see a situation develop in which there is a Kurdistan, with considerable autonomy, an Alawite-stan controlled by Bashar (al Assad) and his regime and then areas under control of various Sunni elements.
“The question is how much they can be made cohesive once the Islamic State and the al Qaeda affiliate are defeated.”
He added: “I have termed Syria a geo-political Chernobyl spewing violence, instability and extremism, as well as a tsunami of refugees not just into neighbouring countries in their millions, but even all the way into Europe and our NATO allies, causing very considerable domestic political challenges.”
Describing the EU deal with Turkey to keep refugees as “pragmatic”, Mr Petraeus argued a similar agreement was needed to deal with migrants crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa.
He was pessimistic about the chances of a securing a temporary halt to the fighting in Syria.
Mr Petraeus said: “Most people would consider it a Herculean effort if we could just reduce the violence and the bloodshed and indeed achieve a ceasefire, while still belong able to go after the Islamic State and al Qaeda affiliate.
“But again without a military context that gives incentives to Bashar al Assad and indeed his Russian supporters to agree to this, I think that the the prospects for that are unlikely.”