This is a VOA Special English Background Report.

The history of Iraq dates back thousands of years. The ancient land area now known as modern Iraq was once considered Mesopotamia. Its civilization, rich in tradition and culture, is one of the oldest in the world.

The capital, Baghdad, was built in seven-sixty-two along the Tigris River. To the west is the great Euphrates River. In earlier centuries, trade and business along these two waterways helped build Baghdad into a major economic center in the Arab world.

Baghdad was built in a circle. Three walls with a common center divided the city. The innermost wall surrounded the living area of the early rulers. The second circular wall enclosed the military. The outer wall of Baghdad surrounded the homes of the local population.

Today, only parts of the walls remain. Baghdad has been destroyed and rebuilt many times.

Almost five-million people live in the capital today. The center of the city includes several government buildings, huge monuments, and many presidential palaces with underground passages.

Baghdad is the center of air, road and railroad transportation in Iraq. It is the leading manufacturing city in the country. Baghdad has oil refineries, food-processing companies and cloth and leather factories. The city also has three universities.

Baghdad has many historical structures. One is the ruins of the last remaining of the famous gates of Baghdad. Other important archeological structures include several Muslim religious buildings and a thirteenth-century university. Baghdad also has a museum holding one of the world's biggest collections of Sumerian, Babylonian and Assyrian art.

Coalition forces are concerned these historical structures could be damaged or destroyed during fighting. In addition, many coalition troops and Iraqi civilians could be killed in street fighting. American military officials believe the Iraqi Republican Guard might use Baghdad civilians to protect areas targeted by coalition fire. Military officials also fear Iraqi President Saddam Hussein might use chemical or biological weapons in Baghdad.

Voice of America Special English

Source: April 5, 2003: Baghdad
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