Soldiers repair buildings near Iraq temple

Published 12:37 pm Monday, March 17, 2008

By Staff
Hope ancient structure will someday attract visitors
The Fayetteville Observer
FAYETTEVILLE — It might be a long time before Iraq is a tourist destination, but Fort Bragg paratroopers are helping one little area get ready if it happens.
The soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division are fixing up two buildings beside an ancient temple — the Ziggurat of Ur in Tallil, Iraq — in hopes of someday attracting visitors.
The ziggurat, which is more than 4,000 years old, is at Camp Adder, a U.S. logistics base that’s much newer. The temple was built by Sumerians, and it can be seen for miles in the flat Iraqi desert.
Maj. Eric Lanham said the ziggurat creates an instant market for the locals to make money.
In the last few months, the paratroopers have poured about $500,000 into the buildings on the site. The money is from an emergency response fund for small, quick projects that have immediate impact.
One building, the larger of the two, will be used as a conference center and a meeting area. Its two main rooms have huge windows that overlook the ziggurat and a courtyard with an ornate fountain.
The other, smaller building will be a gift shop and restaurant. Painted in pinks and whites, it has a huge kitchen and several smaller rooms that could be easily converted into stores. Capt. Roger Vogel said he hopes the gift shop and restaurant will employ about 50 people.
The ziggurat is inside the Camp Adder fence, but the base plans on moving its fence in to open the site to the public.
Dief Mohssein Naiif al-Gizzy’s family has been the curator of the ziggurat for three generations. His grandfather helped British archeologists with the first excavations of the site in the 1920s. His father was the curator under Saddam Hussein. Iraqis were denied access to the ziggurat under Saddam, but since the U.S. occupation, al-Gizzy — a short, thin man with wisps of gray hair in his beard — is excited that it will soon be open to researchers and tourists.
Al-Gizzy said because the area around the ancient site is Shiite, Saddam punished the people. Saddam was a Sunni. Shiites and Sunnis have been in conflict for centuries.
Today, the area around the ziggurat is secure, al-Gizzy said. He hopes that archeological expeditions will come soon since more than 95 percent of the ancient city of Ur is still buried under the sand. Al-Gizzy knows that as more of the city is uncovered, there will be more interest in its history, which means tourists.
The ziggurat will be ready for visitors as soon as the buildings are furnished. The State Department is footing the bill for the interior work, Lanham said.
Lanham previously deployed to Afghanistan for a year. He didn’t have the effect there that he has had in Iraq, he said.
In addition to leading the ziggurat improvements, he has spearheaded a micro-business grant program that is getting mechanics, farmers and other skilled laborers in the area the necessary tools to improve and expand their businesses.