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Soldiers Sweep Into Saddam's Palace

Under the dust, the imitation French Baroque furniture was painted gold. The many swimming pools and fountains were bone dry. Almost every room had 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.

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

While the Pentagon said U.S. forces were not occupying the capital, the Army settled in — at least temporarily — at the bombed-out palace with a mobile command post and a collection point for Iraqis taken prisoner in Baghdad fighting.

Saddam built dozens of palaces around the country during his rule, symbolizing 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 was sand-colored brick, topped with a blue-and-gold ceramic tile dome. The first floor and basement were flooded but intact, the third and fourth floors gone along with a rooftop swimming pool.

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 stationery and a portable stereo.

A lone children's room had four beds. Other large bedrooms had hotel-quality beds and tables, though most shelves and drawers were empty.

Someone apparently emptied the palace before it was bombed. No personal items remained inside the main building, which resembled a small, luxury conference center.

The kitchen had no fresh or canned food, though water still ran from taps.

Outside, flowers and shrubs covered the landscaped compound. An outdoor pavilion contained a barbecue. Dust clouded the air, stirred by a coming windstorm, and an acrid haze blanketed the city from explosions and fires.

Inside, the smell of charcoal from smoldering furnishings filled every room.

Three miles down the river from the New Presidential Palace, explosions, heavy- and light-arms and machine gun fire rang out Sunday from the southern section of Saddam's Old Palace compound.

At the Information Ministry, on the river's west bank, several civilians armed with rocket-propelled grenade rifles stood by and a half-dozen Iraqi soldiers manned sandbagged positions.

They flashed a reporter the "V-for-victory" sign.

Nearby, armed militiamen and civilians loitered around gardens behind a large, Soviet-style apartment block. Asphalt on the road near the Information Ministry and Al-Rashid Hotel was chewed up, evidence of the U.S. tanks and armored personnel carriers that had surrounded the buildings.

At the city's main bus terminal, nearly 500 people — civilians and soldiers — stood waiting for a ride.

Others tried to hitchhike, though destinations were unclear and most stores were closed.

Iraqi television and radio — still on the air — broadcast patriotic songs and slogans and archival footage of President Saddam Hussein firing a gun and greeting crowds of followers. Radio played a religious sermon exhorting Iraqis to fight and denouncing the United States and Britain.

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