Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says he foresees a rapid collapse of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's regime. But Mr. Rumsfeld is still concerned about the possible use by Iraqi forces of chemical or biological weapons.
Mr. Rumsfeld tells reporters he believes Iraqis will quickly turn against Saddam Hussein once they are convinced force will be used against the country or that the Iraqi leader will flee into exile.
But concerned that Iraqi forces might use chemical or biological weapons against U.S. troops in the event of a new war, Mr. Rumsfeld is appealing to Baghdad's military commanders to disobey any orders to employ weapons of mass destruction.
"The message to anyone in that chain of command, at the highest level or the lowest level, is don't even think about it, don't go near it, disobey the orders," he said. "Because if force is used and he uses weapons of mass destruction, anybody connected with that process will wish they hadn't."
Mr. Rumsfeld declined to elaborate on the punishment that might be meted out. But in the past he has labeled the potential use of weapons of mass destruction a war crime.
In voicing optimism about a speedy collapse of the Iraqi regime, Mr. Rumsfeld cited several previous cases.
These included the collapse of the Shah of Iran and the takeover of that country by Muslim religious leaders. He also cited the collapse of the communist governments that once ruled East Germany and Romania.
In a bid to increase pressure on Iraq's government, the United States has been moving tens of thousands of military personnel and tons of equipment into the Gulf region.
Defense officials now estimate close to 90,000 U.S. forces are in that area with more on the way in the weeks ahead.