A top U.S. military commander and his battle staff will launch a major command, control and communications exercise next week from a newly-deployed portable headquarters in the Gulf nation of Qatar.

The exercise is called Internal Look and is designed to test battle command capabilities close to the frontlines in a fictional war.

While military officials will not say it is specifically designed to test U.S. readiness for a possible new conflict with Iraq, some of the scenarios are expected to involve a confrontation with Baghdad.

No ground combat troops are participating but about 1,000 headquarters and support personnel from the U.S. Central Command have been deployed to a base in Qatar for the week-long exercise. They will use a series of modular buildings housing computers and communications equipment sent to Qatar in recent weeks.

Officials say the actual battle scenarios are classified but confirm they do involve contingencies throughout the Central Command area of responsibility - an area that includes the Gulf and the Horn of Africa.

In addition to those taking part in Qatar, officials say other military units in the region and in the United States will participate along with representatives from an unspecified number of allied countries.

Officials say the various command posts have been sent special maps and pictures depicting various ground, air and naval forces. They will then use various communications methods to monitor theoretical battlefield developments.

General Tommy Franks, the commander of the Central Command, will take part. Officials says no decision has been made whether he and his senior aides will return to their permanent headquarters in the United States following the conclusion of the exercise.

But the officials say the deployable modular headquarters sent to Qatar for the exercise will remain there indefinitely.