One of the greatest wonders of civilization, and probably the world's most ancient structure -- the Sumerian city of Ur in southern Iraq -- has been vandalized 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 reported damage.
There has been no official response to the allegations of vandalism -- which was reported by aid workers and one concerned US officer.
Ur is believed by many to be the birthplace of the prophet Abraham. It was the religious seat of the civilization of Sumer at the dawn of the line of dynasties which ruled Mesopotamia starting about 4000BC. 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.
The most prominent monument is the best preserved ziggurat -- stepped pyramid -- in the Arab world, initially built by the Sumerians around 4000BC 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 altered.
* Ur was established by the Sumerians around 2100BC as the capital of the Mesopotamian Civilization.
* A ziggurat, or stepped pyramid is the most prominent edifice in the city today.
* The city's social structure had three levels: priests and soldiers, professionals and craftspeople and slaves.
Source: university of san francisco
One scrawl reads: "SEMPER FI" -- Always Faithful -- the motto of the Marines, who stormed through this region on their way to Baghdad, and formed 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 theft of clay bricks baked to build and restore the structures at Ur.
The Army Public Affairs office at Ur refused to speak on the matter.