TALLIL, Iraq - Coalition forces returned control of the ancient archaeological site Ur, the biblical birthplace of Abraham, back to Iraqi authorities here May 13.

In a grand ceremony staged at the footstep of Ur's most famous artifact - the partially restored 4,100-year-old Ziggurat - several hundred distinguished guests were treated to a program of music and guest speakers. Young children representing the future of Iraq passed out flowers to the visitors.

"We officially announce the taking over of Ziggurat of Ur from our friends the Americans. We are pleased with this great success for the nation," said Talib Kamil al-Hassan, governor of Dhi Qar province, as the Iraqi flag was ceremoniously hoisted atop the Ziggurat. "Abraham, peace be upon him, was born here, the father of prophets and religions," he said.

Ur, until recently, was situated within the fenced perimeter of the joint operations base, Contingency Operating Base Adder and Ali Airbase. Staff Sgt. Mark Keevan, a chaplain assistant for the 287th Sust. Bde., said that more than 30 years ago, then president Saddam Hussein built the Iraqi airbase of Tallil next to Ur and used security to close off the Ur to the public.

"When the U.S. led invasion of 2003 put the base under Coalition forces control, the site was reopened for limited access. Since then base chaplains and chaplain assistants had maintained oversight and provided escorts of an Ur sightseeing tour while ensuring the preservation of the site," he said.

In April, base authorities pulled back their perimeter to place Ur outside the fence line and give Iraqis full access.

Saied Shehapp, headmaster of Ibn Rushed Secondary School, who brought 32 of his students to tour the site in early April, said that it has been over 30 years since he had been able to see Ur.

"None of the students here that day had ever seen it. We are grateful to the Americans for preserving our history and giving us the opportunity to examine the roots of our culture," said Shehapp.

Representing CF during the handover to the Iraqi authorities was Col. Phillip Battaglia, commander of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Calvary Division.

"This ceremony represents another step in the growth and evolution of the Dhi Qar provincial government and Iraq security forces. I am proud to call the Iraqi security forces as our friends and brothers. We will always look back at our time here in southern Iraq as a very special moment in the history of this great nation," Battaglia said.

Anna Prouse, team leader for the Dhi Qar Provincial Reconstruction Team, told the audience her wishes for Ur's future.

"I whole heartedly hope that the Ziggurat will be open to children and to the people." she said. "Because every single Iraqi needs to see what their culture is about and that doesn't take place in classroom. That takes place here."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16