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First Lt. Ted Ruzicka, fire direction officer with the 2nd Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, looks out at the 2,000-year-old ruins of the city of Hatra. The newer building below him houses local Iraqi security who have taken over guarding the ruins.

First Lt. Ted Ruzicka, fire direction officer with the 2nd Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, looks out at the 2,000-year-old ruins of the city of Hatra. The newer building below him houses local Iraqi security who have taken over guarding the ruins. (Kendra Helmer / S&S)

First Lt. Ted Ruzicka, fire direction officer with the 2nd Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, looks out at the 2,000-year-old ruins of the city of Hatra. The newer building below him houses local Iraqi security who have taken over guarding the ruins.

First Lt. Ted Ruzicka, fire direction officer with the 2nd Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, looks out at the 2,000-year-old ruins of the city of Hatra. The newer building below him houses local Iraqi security who have taken over guarding the ruins. (Kendra Helmer / S&S)

First Lt. Ted Ruzicka, fire direction officer with the 2nd Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, stands at the entrance to the 2,000-year-old ruins of the city of Hatra. Ruzicka hired tour guides and is giving them guidance to bring tourism to the area, about 70 miles southwest of Mosul in northern Iraq.

First Lt. Ted Ruzicka, fire direction officer with the 2nd Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, stands at the entrance to the 2,000-year-old ruins of the city of Hatra. Ruzicka hired tour guides and is giving them guidance to bring tourism to the area, about 70 miles southwest of Mosul in northern Iraq. (Kendra Helmer / S&S)

A soldier with the 2nd Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, bundles up against the cold rain outside the 2,000-year-old ruins of the city of Hatra, about 70 miles southwest of Mosul in northern Iraq.

A soldier with the 2nd Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, bundles up against the cold rain outside the 2,000-year-old ruins of the city of Hatra, about 70 miles southwest of Mosul in northern Iraq. (Kendra Helmer / S&S)

HATRA, Iraq — The future of the village of Hatra may be in its past.

The U.S. military is working with villagers to draw tourism dollars to the 2,000-year-old ruins in their back yard, the capital of the first Arab Kingdom.

“We do believe this will be a future tour site,” said Lt. Col. Kevin Felix, 40, commander of the 2nd Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division.

For now, the biggest attraction in the area is a nearby ammunition site, which Felix’s soldiers guard to keep out looters.

Felix said that with fewer funds available for local projects, he had to come up with a way to bring money to the poor area in northern Iraq, about 70 miles southwest of Mosul.

His soldiers hired and trained local tour guides. Soldiers who normally fire guns now sound off about the history of the ruins, which lie in a low plain in the heart of Mesopotamia.

First Lt. Ted Ruzicka, a fire direction officer for a 105 mm howitzer, manages the tour guides at the Al Hatra Hotel.

“None of the stuff we’re doing out here is what we’ve trained to do,” said Ruzicka, 25, from Knoxville, Tenn., eagerly rattling off facts about Hatra, the only place in Iraq recognized as a World Heritage Property by the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Though the city is known among archaeologists and history buffs, soldiers may recognize it from the movie “The Exorcist.” In the beginning of the film, an old man encounters a demon at an archaeological site. That scene was filmed in Hatra.

“That’s because that place is the devil,” laughed Pfc. Aaron Heningcamp, 19, an artilleryman from Johnstown, Pa. He and five other soldiers sweated out the stifling summer at the ruins to provide security and deter looters.

Soldiers have since turned over security to the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps.

One battalion soldier created a Web site about the ruins — www.hatratours.com — that includes historical information.

According to the Web site, Hatra, known as the City of the Sun, was built in 150 B.C. and became the Arab capital around 100 A.D. Hatra withstood Roman invasions in 116 and 198 A.D. Built along the Oriental Silk Road, a major trade route, it collapsed in 241.

The city is surrounded by two walls, one of which features 163 defensive towers. Among the various temples is a 1,000-foot tall monument dedicated to the Sun god Shamash.

In 1982, Saddam Hussein founded the present-day city of Hatra to honor the ruins. He gave land and money to local villagers to build houses nearby.

The soldiers hope that when they leave the area in a couple of months, they can turn the program over to the local tourism board. The plan for the 90-minute tour is to charge an entry fee of $1 for locals and $2 for soldiers, who can stay at the Al Hatra Hotel, a couple miles from the ruins.

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