Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld toured a key military facility in the Gulf state of Qatar Thursday, to witness first-hand a computerized war game that could be a coalition dress rehearsal for a new conflict with Iraq.
The exercise, called "Internal Look," is taking place at the sprawling As Sayliyah Military Camp outside Doha, the Qatari capital.
It is there, inside tightly-guarded large warehouse-like structures, that some 20 portable modular containers and tents have been set up, simulating a command post for a future war in the Gulf region.
The exercise is being overseen by U.S. Army four-star General Tommy Franks, commander of the military's Central Command, responsible for the Mideast, Central Asia and the Horn of Africa.
He briefed Mr. Rumsfeld on the progress of the computerized command, control and communications war game, and later, the two men appeared before several hundred soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen in one of the warehouses.
In brief remarks, General Franks appeared to signal his fear that the exercise could soon turn into a grim reality. He told troops they are serving at what he termed "perhaps the most stressful time that any of us have ever seen in our lives."
In contrast, Mr. Rumsfeld appeared to downplay any sense of an imminent battle with Iraq - even though he remained largely skeptical about Baghdad's cooperation in the latest crisis over its weapons programs.
On the one hand, Mr. Rumsfeld said, it is too soon to say whether Iraq's declaration to the United Nations on its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons is complete and accurate.
He also said it would be wrong for him to prejudge the lengthy report as it undergoes analysis by experts in the United States and elsewhere.
But the U.S. defense secretary again made clear his view that Iraq is not acting in good faith in its dealings with the international community. He said its forces continue to fire on coalition aircraft patrolling the no-fly zones in the north and south of the country.
And he also asserted the best information in the past on Iraq's weapons systems has come from defectors and he noted two of the most important were relatives of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. He says they later returned to Iraq and were, in his words, "brutally murdered."
Mr. Rumsfeld arrived in Qatar late Wednesday, after touring the Horn of Africa region, and eliciting fresh pledges of cooperation in the war on terrorism.
In Qatar, he also signed a largely technical agreement providing for upgrades to another military facility used by American forces, the al-Udeid airbase, with the longest runway in the Gulf region.
Mr. Rumsfeld is expected back in Washington on Friday.