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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ancient City Remains Untouched by the War

TELL AL-MUQAYYAR, Iraq -- Burrowed in the sweltering desert, U.S. infantrymen ring a stark temple of a moon god and the sand-swept ruins of a city where 6,000 years ago civilization first budded and from which, it is said, three great religions blossomed.

In the opening days of the war, U.S. forces drove through Ur, home to the Biblical Abraham and a population that irrigated fields, forged agricultural tools and devised the written word.

The fighting, which continues in the nearby southern Iraq city of Nasiriyah, has so far spared the remains of Ur and the two families guarding them, who have worked as guides there for generations.

"We are proud," Dhief Nauos said of his job as custodian of one of Iraq's greatest historic treasures. Five other men, standing outside two humble family compounds, nodded in agreement.

But their immediate concerns were not about past glory, the lack of tourists, or even the war, but about their empty well and dwindling food stocks. Electric power also had been cut off.

They have not been allowed into Nasiriyah, past roadblocks where U.S. troops try to ferret out soldiers in civilian clothes and hard-line civilian supporters of the Iraqi regime. American units from the nearby Tallil Air Base have given them only 10 bottles of water, they said.

The two extended families -- 25 people, including 15 children -- portrayed themselves as isolated from the ebb and flow of the conflict, harming nobody.

"We only love our country," said Dhief's 71-year-old father, Muhsen Nauos, committing himself to neither President Saddam Hussein nor the American forces surrounding him.

The 4,000-year-old temple, a massive ziggurat of fired mud bricks, rises about 21 meters high, its fortress-like silhouette etched hard into the featureless landscape. A stairway on its eastern side led the ancient Sumerians toward heaven and closer to their moon god Nanna.

Founded about 4,000 B.C., Ur's golden age came from 2113 to shortly before 2000 B.C., when King Ur-Nammu expanded the Sumerian empire and made his capital the wealthiest city in Mesopotamia. Arts and literature flourished under his successors until enemies destroyed the city.

By the 4th century B.C., Ur had all but faded into the desert, possibly because the Euphrates River, which once flowed nearby and gave it profitable access to the sea, had shifted course.

Both the Bible and the Koran, Islam's holy book, tell of Abraham's two sons migrating from the city, Isaac westward to Canaan to sire the Jewish race and through it Christianity. Ishmael headed to the Arabian peninsula to lay Islam's foundations.

Dhief, 44, said Ur attracted a steady flow of visitors from Europe, the United States and the Arab world until the 1991 Gulf War, when U.S. troops briefly occupied the area. Tourism fell to 75 percent of pre-war days but scientific excavation continued until about a month before the U.S. attack.

From the desert sands, archaeologists resurrected the remains of a fortress and residential quarters, thousands of tablets in the cuneiform writing system and a royal cemetery dating to about 2600 B.C. containing treasures of gold, silver and precious metals.