CAMP VICTORY, Iraq – The U.S. military says it has handed over Camp Victory, a sprawling base at the edge of Baghdad that used to be the headquarters for the U.S. military, to the Iraqi government.
The handover of the sprawling complex of grandiose former palaces of Saddam Hussein, encircled by 27 miles of blast walls, comes as American troops prepare to pull out by the end of the month after nearly nine years.
"The Victory Base Complex was officially signed over to the receivership of the Iraqi government this morning [Friday]. The base is no longer under U.S. control and is now under the full authority of the government of Iraq," Col. Barry Johnson, a spokesman for the U.S. forces in Iraq, was quoted as saying by AFP.
He added, "There was no ceremony, just a signing of paperwork akin to the closing of a home sale."
U.S. vice president Joe Biden spoke Thursday at one of the palaces during a ceremony to mark the imminent U.S. withdrawal, which Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki has dubbed "the day of fulfilling the promise."
The Iraqi claimants to the compound are numerous, and the ideas for its use are many, ranging from the somber -- military barracks, Hussein museums and cultural centers -- to the more business-minded, such as five-star hotels or an amusement park, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Another dilemma looms -- what to do with Hussein's markings throughout the camp, originally a complex of palaces and artificial lakes built for the glory of the ex-strongman.
This is especially problematic for Maliki and other officials who have made it their mission to erase any reminder of Hussein and his epoch. Maliki's aides have given conflicting signals over whether any of the palaces on the compound would be used by the prime minister.
Many other Hussein-era palaces around the country once occupied by the U.S. military already were handed to the Iraqi side. Most remain military installations, others are in dispute.
The U.S. military, in addition to carving bases out of Camp Victory's palaces and the vast surrounding farmland, and giving streets and pathways names such as "Washington" and "Lost Lake," has spent tens of millions of dollars to retrofit the area to its needs, with modifications including plumbing, electricity supply and ice-making.
The U.S. military's top brass in Iraq and tens of thousands of soldiers once resided here, near the international airport about 10 miles west of downtown Baghdad, enjoying a slice of Americana, with perks such as Salsa night, speedway racing and fly fishing.
In the process, the military went out of its way to preserve important vestiges of Hussein's rule of more than three decades.
Newscore and the Associated Press contributed to this report.