U. S. troops stand guard over 1,400-year-old monastery

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With Iraqi Christians a threatened and dwindling minority, U. S. forces are safeguarding a 1,400- year-old monastery -- Iraq's most ancient -- for a time when peace, reconciliation and archeological detective work can occur.

St. Elijah's Monastery, with its main fortress-like structure looming atop a barren hillside, sits inside a sprawling U. S. military base. Its bloody history makes clear why the monastery needs protection. In 2003, it was damaged during the U. S.-led invasion of Iraq. Some 250 years earlier, it was nearly levelled by a Persian ruler who ordered its monks slain.

Below the thick-walled compound lies the embattled city of Mosul, dotted with mosques but also churches. The city, Iraq's third largest, has seen a recent exodus of Christians reportedly sparked by killings and intimidation from Islamic militants.

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