A Silver Star combat veteran of Iraq and the author of the Second Battle of Fallujah book “House to House: An epic memoir of war” spoke to Guns & Patriots about his own unit, the Fort Riley, Kansas-based 1st Infantry Division getting orders back to Iraq.
“Out of the 500 deployed to Iraq, 250 are going into theatre, and about 175 of the 500 will be going to areas outside of Iraq,” said David Bellavia, a former GOP candidate for Congress, whose book is in development by producer Rich Middlemas as a big screen feature.
The mission is confused and that is going to confuse the soldiers, he said.
The 1st Infantry Division is not playing its traditional role that has marked so many conflicts in American history, he said. “These soldiers are coming from headquarters; they are experts who compile bomb damage assessment and perform communication functions.” He said the U.S. is making a mistake.
“When you look at the 1st Infantry Division, it is one of the strongest in the military, we are an armored, combat brigade,” he said. “What we have now is a headquarters brigade.”
Bellavia, who is from Buffalo, New York, said if the U.S. government foresees danger in the area, it would be prudent for them to send in the infantry, armored side, rather than a headquarters operation, or at least do both.
Another mistake this administration is making is that the brigade is going to Baghdad first and not Erbil, he said. “Erbil is the epicenter of the ISIS crude market; one would think we would want to keep the barbarians at the gate.” The Islamic State of Syria and Iraq is the army that is marching through western and north central Iraq.
He said there is not much of an American presence in Erbil, which is about 150 miles north of Baghdad where an American consulate is, and he has not seen ISIS show an interest in taking over Baghdad.
Some estimates indicate that I.S.E.S. is making $400 million a month in black market crude oil sales, he said. “This represents our biggest threat, because they have a budget, and they actually have the ability to militate.” If they are selling black market crude in Erbil what is their interest in going into Baghdad and taking it, he asked.
Bagdad, as American forces saw, is very difficult to occupy and maintain, said Bellavia. “With all of the different groups that are there, the Mahdi Militia, the Shias, and Armenian influence.” However at the same time, he said a Bagdad presence is the “eyes and ears” for the capitol and the region, and it would be a tremendous loss for Baghdad to be taken over by ISIS.
“If Israel decided to take-out one of the nuclear facilities in Iran, the Baghdad embassy is going to be desperately working overtime to open up air space.” American sovereign soil ends up playing an important role in the Middle East, he said.
“That is where a lot of our interest lies, and it remains,” he said. “The Baghdad embassy is almost a billion dollar piece of real estate. We invested a lot of money for the long term.” Whether in Erbil or Baghdad, Bellavia said the area needs troops on the ground. “We need to have a robust presence in Iraq, but the sooner we do that the better, we do not need a delta force of accountants to come in.”
“Going into Erbil sends the message that we are prepared for a sectarian Iraq.” He said that was Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s’s 2006 approach; having a separatist Iraq, a Kurdish area, a Shia area, and a Sunni area. “It sends the message to Baghdad that we are behind the central message, at least that is where the political message needs to be.”
Towards 2006-2007 the jihadists were coming across the border taking Sunni property and resources, this allowed the American Army occupation to be seen as a flag, said Bellavia, who is a recipient of the Bronze Star.
“We went to tribal leaders in Anbar Province, and said hey we are just like you; we want you to have control of your legacy and of your real estate and your children, and we’ll pay you to join forces with the Iraqi government and the American side.”
The U.S. lost that power by reducing troops, he said. “This let a vacuum be filled by ISIS.; the Sons of Iraq launched al-Qaeda in Anbar.”
Under Saddam the Sunni’s and the Ba’athist party were accustomed to owning real estate and having power, he said. “They were angry that their power was gone and the opening created a democracy which allowed Shias to come into power.” The Sunnis that are fighting in Anbar Province, about 120 miles west of Baghdad, is ISIS, he said.
The Sunni Bat’thists were initially in charge of the Iraq military, said Bellavia. “The large majority of the shock troops were Sunnis.” Some Sunnis left the Iraqi government because they were not getting paid anymore, he said. “The Sons of Iraq were basically unemployed and disenfranchised.”
He said when the Iraq military lost the Sunnis, it lost the majority of its combat, trained professionals. “They are not ideologues, they are not guys wearing Wahhabi beards.” What we see in Iraq today is nothing but candlestick
makers in uniform, he said. “Unless the U.S. can bring back that 30 percent of manpower, we are not going to have victory.”
Bringing back manpower combined with slow sanctions that hurt the people around the region, that will truly isolate ISIS, said Bellavia, who was inducted into the New York Veterans’ Hall of Fame in 2005.
“While we are trying to go after ISIS’ men, they are making concessions with the Iranian government.” The concessions that the U.S. are making through nuclear proliferation and other deals on the side, causes neighboring countries; Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt to not want to work with us, he said. “So at the end of the day as dangerous as ISIS is, there is negotiation-room because they are all Sunnis.”