CAMP VICTORY, Iraq — Inside palace walls built by Saddam Hussein, U.S. generals plotted the war's course, tracked the mounting death toll and swore in new American citizens under gaudy glass chandeliers.
Just outside the palace, American troops whacked golf balls into lakes or fished while others had a cigar and a can of nonalcoholic beer hoping for a respite from rockets or mortar shells.
Along another lake some distance away, a jailed Saddam tended to tomatoes and cucumbers in a small, walled-off enclosure with guards patrolling overhead.
Ever since the soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division fought their way into the Baghdad airport grounds nearly nine years ago, the sprawling area they renamed Camp Victory has held a special place in the American military experience in Iraq.
On Friday, the base that at its height was home to 46,000 people was handed over to the Iraqi government as part of U.S. efforts to move all U.S. troops out of the country by the end of the year.
The area, which the military formally calls Victory Base Complex, was originally used as a country club for the Baghdad elite under Saddam.
Victory Base Complex was essentially a city, often hit by rockets or mortar shells. One time the violence came from within. In May 2009, a U.S. soldier shot and killed five fellow troops at a combat stress clinic.
If soldiers grew tired of food at the massive chow halls, they could grab takeout at Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Cinnabon, Burger King or Subway.
The Iraqi government has not yet announced plans for the complex, prime real estate in a country sorely lacking in parks and public spaces. The Iraqi military is already using some parts, and there is talk of turning Saddam's jail cell into a museum.