- The Washington Times - Monday, October 28, 2002

The Garden of Eden has "Down with America" sprayed across a battered wall, and the Tree of Life died many years ago. Every inch of grass in the biblical birthplace of mankind has been covered with chipped, concrete flagstones.
If Adam and Eve returned today, they would run no risk of temptation, for the serpents, apples and most other forms of life have disappeared.
The traditional site of the Garden of Eden in southern Iraq is about as far from idyllic as could be imagined.
Genesis names four rivers emerging from the garden: the Tigris, Euphrates, Pishon and Gihon. The last two are mythical, so folklore holds that Adam and Eve frolicked at the point where the Tigris and Euphrates converge, in the present-day Iraqi province of Basra.
Before the rule of Saddam Hussein, the Iraqis sought to turn this spot into a tourist attraction. A low wall surrounds a small area of riverbank. This supposedly protects the place where, according to Genesis: "The Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden and the Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground, trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food."
In fact, the Garden contains five small trees, none of which sprout any fruit. One has a green cloth tied to a branch, identifying it as the Tree of Life. This, according to Genesis, was the tree beneath whose green leaves God placed Adam. Today, every inch of bark has been stripped from its trunk and the branches are lifeless.
Litter is strewn all around the tree and dirty rags blow across the flagstones. No flowers or grasses grow. Instead, the garden displays the central propaganda message of Saddam's regime. On the wall, someone has sprayed in Arabic script: "Down with America."
However, the local children know there is something special about the garden. Nasser Adnan, 11, said he regularly communed with the Tree of Life. "I come here to speak to the tree," he said. "When I want to do well at school, I speak to it. It is specially put here by God."
One 7-year-old girl, Rihab Faris, had heard of Adam. "He is the grandfather of us all," she said.
A row of crumbling houses stands opposite the garden, part of the impoverished town of al-Qurna. Inside one tiny home, filled with small children, Hamida Mansour, 30, said she forbade her five sons from playing in the garden. "They might damage it," she said. "This is the tree of Adam. It is significant to all religions and to all people."

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