- One of the greatest wonders of civilisation, and probably
the world's most ancient structure - the Sumerian city of Ur in southern
Iraq - has been vandalised by American soldiers and airmen, according to
aid workers in the area.
- They claim that US forces have spray-painted the remains
with graffiti and stolen kiln-baked bricks made millennia ago. As a result,
the US military has put the archaeological treasure, which dates back 6,000
years, off-limits to its own troops. Any violations will be punishable
in military courts.
- Land immediately adjacent to Ur has been chosen by the
Pentagon for a sprawling airfield and military base. Access is highly selective,
screened and subject to military escorts, which - even if agreed - need
to be arranged days or weeks in advance and carefully skirt the areas of
- There has been no official response to the allegations
of vandalism - reported to The Observer by aid workers and one concerned
- Ur is believed by many to be the birthplace of the prophet
Abraham. It was the religious seat of the civilisation of Sumer at the
dawn of the line of dynasties which ruled Mesopotamia starting about 4000
BC. Long before the rise of the Egyptian, Greek or Roman empires, it was
here that the wheel was invented and the first mathematical system developed.
Here, the first poetry was written, notably the epic Gilganesh, a classic
of ancient literature.
- The most prominent monument is the best preserved ziggurat
- stepped pyramid - in the Arab world, initially built by the Sumerians
around 4000 BC and restored by Nebuchadnezzar II in the sixth century BC.
- The Pentagon has elected to build its massive and potentially
permanent base right alongside the site, so that the view from the peak
of the ziggurat - more or less unchanged for 6,000 years - will be radically
- Each hour, long convoys of trucks heave gravel and building
materials through checkpoints and the barbed wire perimeter extends daily.
- There are reports that walls have been damaged by spray-painted
graffiti, mostly patriotic or other slogans, and regimental mottos. One
graffiti reads: 'SEMPER FE' - Always Faithful - the motto of the Marines,
who stormed through this region on their way to Baghdad, and form a contingent
at the base.
- Other reports by groups who cannot be named for fear
of losing access to medical patients being treated on the base say there
has been widespread stealing of clay bricks baked to build and restore
the structures at Ur.
- The US Army Public Affairs office at Ur refused to speak
to The Observer.
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