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Saddam palace hosts U.S. military summit

U.S. military leaders plan Iraq's future in the luxury of Saddam's Abu Ghurayb North Palace.
U.S. military leaders plan Iraq's future in the luxury of Saddam's Abu Ghurayb North Palace.

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The commanders of the U.S.-led invasion that ousted President Saddam Hussein met Wednesday in one of his lavish palaces and promised life for ordinary Iraqis will have noticeably improved within a week.

Gen. Tommy Franks toured the Abu Ghurayb North Palace -- now the headquarters of Lt. Gen. John McKiernan, chief of U.S. Central Command's ground forces -- during a six-hour visit.

"I wanted to get our commanders together in Baghdad because that's been, of course, the center of gravity for this regime while it stood. And as we all recognize, it stands no longer," Franks said.

Franks held a videoconference with President Bush and spoke with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld by telephone while sharing cigars with several senior officers.

Much of Baghdad remained chaotic a week after the apparent collapse of Saddam's Baath Party regime. Franks' motorcade to the palace included several Humvees equipped with machine guns and grenade launchers and was escorted by helicopter gunships.

"I think over the past week we have seen water being turned back on in this country," Franks said.

"I think we have seen power being turned back on in this country. I think we've seen hospitals going back to work all over the country.

"I actually believe it'll be better seven days from now by quite a bit than it is today."

The palace was one of Saddam's many residences in the Baghdad area.

One wing of the brown stone complex, built in the middle of a large, man-made lake, was struck by a U.S. missile during the three-week bombardment of Baghdad.

Franks thumps the air as he arrives at Baghdad International Airport.
Franks thumps the air as he arrives at Baghdad International Airport.

Windows throughout the complex were shattered, but the gold bathroom fixtures remained intact.

"It's the oil-for-palace program," Franks said, referring to the U.N. oil-for-food program meant to provide food and medical supplies to ease the lives of civilian Iraqis after sanctions were imposed against Iraq for its 1990 invasion of Kuwait. The United States alleged that much of the money was diverted to other uses.

McKiernan added: "This is a symbol of a regime we've just moved out of position. To set up in a Saddam Hussein palace is very appropriate."

Among those attending the meeting were Vice Adm. Timothy Keating, commander of the U.S. 5th Fleet; Lt. Gen. Buzz Moseley, Air Force chief for the Central Command; and Lt. Gen. Earl Hailston, head of Central Command's Marine component.

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