Saddam#039;s #039;new#039; palace now history

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 7, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - Under the dust, the imitation French Baroque furniture is painted gold. The many swimming pools and fountains are bone dry. Almost every room has several televisions.

And the views of the Tigris? Spectacular.

After bombing Saddam Hussein's New Presidential Palace on Monday, the U.S. Army swept in and took inventory. Soldiers searched the vast complex by the river and marveled at what they saw.

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''This used to be a nice place, they should make it like a Six Flags, or something,'' said Specialist Robert Blake, 20, of State College, Pa., and the 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry.

While the Pentagon says U.S. troops are not occupying Baghdad, the Army settled in - at least temporarily - at the bombed-out palace by setting up a mobile command post.

Saddam build numerous palaces around the country during his rule as a symbol of his power. U.N. inspectors suspected some palaces were used to conceal banned weapons, though none were ever found in searches.

The ''new'' palace was built recently near Saddam's Baath Party headquarters. Now half destroyed, the main building is sand-colored brick, topped with a blue-and-gold ceramic tile dome. The first floor and basement are flooded but intact, the third and fourth floors gone.

Soldiers searched the remaining rooms, apparently once used as living and entertaining quarters, not for administration. They rifled through documents in the many offices, finding ornate boxes of stationary and a portable stereo. A lone children's room has four beds.

Outside, flowers and shrubs cover the landscaped compound. A barbecue area graced an outdoor pavilion.