LIANE HANSEN, host:
On the Tigris River in Iraq's Arab Jabour region just outside of Baghdad, there is a manor house. The house retains some of the touches of its former life. There are ornate light fixtures. The dining room table could seat 20. And the swimming pool sits next to a stream and a pond.
This used to be the retreat of Uday and Qusay Hussein, the diabolical sons of the former dictator. It now houses the Battle Boars of the 3rd Infantry Division.
NPR's Tom Bowman has this reporter's notebook.
(Soundbite of call to prayers)
TOM BOWMAN: The call to prayers comes on schedule, just like it did when Saddam's sons were here. These days, it blends with a more foreign sound.
(Soundbite of people talking)
BOWMAN: Soldiers strain to lift barbells in a circular outdoor building that includes a barbecue pit and a wraparound bar.
Specialist ROBERT NEIDERT (U.S. Army): This is what we call the gazebo. It's obviously a cooking area. But we originally had it as a sleep area when we first got in.
BOWMAN: Specialist Robert Neidert and his squad commandeered this place a few months back. They found the house looted. Locals carted away furniture, chandeliers and fixtures. There was no evidence of the Hussein boys.
Spc. NEIDERT: There was nothing that said that anybody had lived here.
BOWMAN: The soldiers stuffed the large, empty rooms with crude, wooden bunk beds. Camouflage netting hangs above the empty pool. Plywood latrines and showers squat nearby.
Spc. NEIDERT: There used to be a nice little (unintelligible), two of it are over here behind these showers and they've unfortunately fallen out.
BOWMAN: A room just off the pool is where the medical staff works. On this day, they're treating an Iraqi teenager injured by a roadside bomb.
Unidentified Man #1: Left side and I'm more concerned about this left (unintelligible).
BOWMAN: Still, another room serves as an operations center.
Unidentified Man #2: Hey, (unintelligible).
BOWMAN: Maps cover the wall. Soldiers monitor banks of computers and radios. Neidert says when he first came here, the property was something of an Eden.
Spc. NEIDERT: Palm trees. There's apple trees. There are some pear trees. Out here they had grapevines all along the trail there upfront. It was really, really beautiful and green.
BOWMAN: Now, it's vast and open and brown. Thick, talcum-like dust coats the few remaining palm trees and bushes.
(Soundbite of vehicles passing)
BOWMAN: Scores of Humvees and armored vehicles cover the property, kicking up billowing clouds in their wake. Neidert continues his walk, past blazing oil drums burning the excrement of soldiers. Toward the back of the house and over a large patio, broken stonework that now resembles a scattered jigsaw puzzle.
Spc. NEIDERT: I'm guessing - that from a theory, it was, like I said, a dance place for everyone to congregate and have a sort of party.
BOWMAN: He heads toward the Tigris River, wide and open and pristine. Tall reeds wave along the banks. A large white bird skims along the water, then rises into the sky.
Spc. NEIDERT: It's a nice view. If you look down that way toward the north, you can see towards north of Baghdad where I was last time when I was over. Here, down south - I mean, it's just - I've got a chance to walk up and down this river down the sector. It's beautiful.
BOWMAN: Neidert is a fresh-faced kid from Carson City, Nevada. He seems decent and hardworking, unlike the former residents of this house, trying to make life a little better for the locals, helping rebuild this little corner of Arab Jabour.
Tom Bowman, NPR News.
HANSEN: You're listening to NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.