It once stood as a monument to the power and resources of Saddam Hussein, an edifice of dun-colored brick with a magnificent view of the Tigris River.

Now a gaping, flame-blackened hole lays bare a section of the Sijood Palace, and its ornate halls and reception rooms are filled with debris, the results of a pounding with precision bombs dropped by U.S. Air Force planes.

In happier times for Hussein, the palace, known to U.S. military planners as the "New Presidential Palace," was visited only by a favored few, people with the closest ties to his government.

Now American soldiers have the run of the place, lounging on its portico and firing mortars from a front lawn carved up by tank treads.

"Symbolism," said Capt. John Ives, 27, of Richmond Hill, Ga., the assistant military intelligence officer of the 3rd Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade. "That's what it's all about here."

One of two presidential palaces seized by the 2nd Brigade in its push into downtown Baghdad Monday (the other is the vast Republican Palace just up the road), the Sijood Palace serves as a metaphor, in the view of U.S. commanders, for the demise of Hussein.

Massive doors at the front gate lie flat on the long driveway, smashed off their hinges by U.S. armored vehicles and crushed by tank tracks.

Parked on the lawn, facing the gate, is an M1 Abrams tank with the nickname "Cold Beer" stenciled on its cannon. Other armored vehicles occupy their own pieces of turf on the lawn, which is bordered by a long flower bed of red and pink roses.

An adjacent tennis court has been turned into a holding area for enemy prisoners of war, EPWs in the current military parlance. About 20 of them sit in a corner of the court under a tarp to shade them from the midmorning sun.

At the right side of the building's entrance, the gaping hole in the facade detracts somewhat from its curbside appeal. And, with debris all over the floors, the Sijood is definitely a fixer-upper.

But, as always seems to happen when such a place suffers heavy damage, crystal chandeliers still hang from the ceilings, including one affixed to the dome of a three-story atrium just inside the front entrance.

In a conference room on the ground floor, dents in the window panes reveal one of the secrets of Hussein's longevity. The windows are bulletproof, not only in that room but throughout the palace.

From the second floor windows of the rooms at the rear, the city looks tranquil. The nearby Tigris flows serenely by, and it is almost possible for a moment to forget the war. .

Marble floors throughout, gold-plated bathroom fixtures and ornate elevators speak of opulence, as do the intricate brickwork, mosaics, thick mahogany doors and the oversized jacuzzis in the guest bathrooms.

But the gilded furniture is decidedly chintzy, and there is nothing special about the other furnishings.

As found by the Americans, the palace contains little if any of Hussein's personal effects and seems mainly intended to entertain his guests, said Capt. Felix Almaguer, 29, of Summit, N.J., intelligence officer for the brigade's 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment.

In the less damaged wing of the second floor, a couple of marble-floored bedrooms now accommodate several reporters embedded with the 2nd Brigade headquarters.

It's better than what the reporters have been used to during the nearly three-week-old war, but the beds are a little dusty, sniffed one European journalist. This reporter spent last night sleeping in the street next to an armored vehicle and had to get up twice when it moved to let tanks pass.

"This place is a hotel," Almaguer said dismissively as he toured the palace today. "It's really not that impressive. You can go to someplace in New York and pay $200 a night and get something better."

A soldier with the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division, left, signals to fellow soldiers from the upper floor of one of Saddam Hussein's Baghdad palaces. Above, a room in one of the captured palaces is shown in a video image.