July 07, 2003 01:50 AM

Arnold Schwarzenegger was able to check the receipts for his newly opened “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” in an unusual location this Fourth of July: inside Saddam Hussein’s former summer vacation palace.

The action star and possible California Republican gubernatorial candidate, 55, was joined by hundreds of U.S. soldiers who stood on marble floors and cheered him on from American flag-draped balconies, reports the Associated Press.

Although Schwarzenegger’s intention was to deliver a morale-boosting visit for the troops — who have lost 26 comrades to attacks since the U.S. declared an end to major combat on May 1 — not every spectator found him to be larger than life, reports AP.

“Actually, he is a lot smaller than I thought he was going to be,” said Staff Sgt. Dominique Rollins, referring to movie roles played by Schwarzenegger, who claims to be 6’2″. “I was picturing Conan. (Instead) I saw Kindergarten Cop,” added Rollins.

As for the pep talks the star delivered to the soldiers, besides some joking around (referring to all the oil wells in the vicinity, he quipped in his Austrian accent, “I have not seen that much oil since the last time I oiled up for the Mr. Universe contest”), a sample remark went: “First of all, congratulations for saying, ‘Hasta la vista, baby,’ to Saddam Hussein.”

Schwarzenegger also said, “I came here from the United States because I wanted to pump you all up.”

That one reportedly brought cheers from the crowd, as did his farewell greeting, borrowed from an earlier “Terminator” movie: “I’ll be back.”

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