The spring of 2008 was a grim time for the U.S. military in Baghdad. Not least among the problems were rockets raining down on the Green Zone, which housed government offices and foreign embassies, from a suburb of the Iraqi capital called Sadr City. American forces fought back and captured launch locations, but the missiles kept falling.

That’s when the military opted for a strategy that would resonate, years later, with the border-control philosophy of President Donald Trump: building a big wall.

In just six weeks, U.S. and Iraqi soldiers placed 3,000 precast concrete slabs, each standing 12 feet high and weighing about 9 tons, to block enemy fighters from important positions. It wasn’t easy. The militia tried to disrupt the construction with improvised explosive devices and snipers, according to a paper published by the Rand Corp. Gunmen routinely took aim at personnel who had the unenviable job of climbing to the top of the barriers and freeing each concrete slab from the cables of construction cranes. But the wall went up quickly, and the missiles stopped.


OTAY MESA, CA - JULY 25: Members of the California National Guard prepare to bury plastic pipes for housing electrical wiring along the U.S.-Mexico Border July 25, 2006 in Otay Mesa, California. Approximately 1,000 volunteer Guardsmen are stationed along the California-Mexico border as part of Operation Jump Start, which is providing support for the border patrol agents by repairing fences, improving roads and manning surveillance cameras. The Guard are prohibited from engaging in overt law enforcement. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)

Members of the California National Guard prepare to build a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border in Otay Mesa, Calif., on July 25, 2006. (Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)

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Editorial Cartoon courtesy of Robert L. Lang