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 reported damage.
There has been no official response to the allegations of vandalism - reported to The Observer by aid workers and one concerned US officer.