Fallujah, the Guernica of Our Times
Part 1: The City of Mosques
By Mac McKinney
On the afternoon of April 26, 1937 the Basque city of Guernica, Spain suddenly became the target of wave after wave of German Nazi and Italian Fascist aerial bombardment and strafing. Hitler and Mussolini had allied themselves with General Franco's Falangist forces against the Second Republic of Spain and had sent air squadrons and other assets to the Spanish front in solidarity. Spearheading the Luftwaffe contingent was the Condor Legion, equipped with Junkers bombers and fighter escorts well-suited for strafing.
Over a period of several hours Guernica was all but demolished, a fierce firestorm generated by the bombings completing the destruction of three quarters of the city's buildings. The death toll has never been accurately assessed, with estimates ranging from 120 to 10,000. The then Basque government put the total at 1650 minimum.
Motivation for the horrific attack was apparently to demoralize the Republicans and terrorize civilians. Guernica served no strategic importance. The bombing also occurred shortly after the capture and lynching of a German pilot in nearby Bilbao. So Nazi retaliation, always high in proportionate response, may have been another key factor.
Guernica is memorialized in history as the first city to be destroyed by air assault. Pablo Picasso went on to immortalize this terrible event with his famous and disconcerting painting, simply entitled "Guernica."
Fast forward some 66 years, past decade upon decade of ongoing, world-wide wars and destruction, to April of 2003 and the Iraqi city of Fallujah, in the Sunni triangle of Iraq, situated some 43 miles west of Baghdad on the Euphrates River. An historical city dating back to Babylonian times, Fallujah is known as the "City of Mosques", housing some 200 of Islamic houses of worship. It was also an important center of Jewish academies for several centuries. When Operation Iraqi Freedom, the American-dominated invasion of Iraq began in March, 2003, the city's population was some 350,000.
American troops first entered Fallujah in April of 2003, quickly setting up their headquarters in the former Baath Party headquarters, which caused immediate local resentment. However, a Fallujah Protection Force composed of cooperating Iraqis was soon established to help maintain order. But things rapidly turned sour when an incident on April 28 revolving around curfew violations led to the deaths of 15 Iraqis from American gunfire.
The Army's 82nd Airborne Division spearheaded the patrolling of Fallujah and interestingly, a documentary, Operation Dreamland, was actually made, focusing on one patrol's daily routines and survival in Fallujah. The documentary shows how the air was tense and dangerous, while relations with civilians became increasingly abrasive, as the insurgency throughout Iraq and likewise Fallujah strengthened and spread. Killings of American soldiers started to take a toll, and heavily armed Americans patrols often included forced entries and weapons searches of Iraqi homes, with the males in the family often arrested, black-hooded and driven off for interrogation and/or imprisonment.
By March, 2004, the Army was ordered to abandon Fallujah, to be replaced by the Marine Expeditionary Force. However, March was a bad month for relations in Fallujah. On March 29, citizens protesting the American occupation of a school refused to disperse when ordered and were eventually fired upon by American forces. According to the BBC, 17 Iraqis died, the Army arguing that the protesters were armed, eye witnesses claiming they were not. Two days later, another protest occurred outside the old Baath party headquarters and mayor's office. Three more Fallujans were slain. And this was all transpiring while the Army was trying to pull out of the city. Obviously tensions between Americans and Fallujans were getting worse and worse.
That same day, March 31st, another, much more ominous event occurred. Four military contractors for Blackwater USA drove into Fallujah, apparently lost. They were attacked and slain, their bodies mutilated and burned and then ultimately hung from the nearby bridge over the Euphrates. A large crowd, estimated at over a thousand, congregated and participated to various degrees, jubilant at the Americans' death. This was videotaped by nearby journalists and eventually broadcast around the world. In the United States, cries of outrage and calls for retaliation were immediate and forceful.
Next article, Operation Vigilant Resolve:
The Destruction Begins