Rumsfeld insisted the reports – which appeared in Monday's New York Times – are "enormously unhelpful," since this conveys an impression that the U.S. is trying to "occupy" Iraq.
Rumsfeld also said there's been no decision of just what sort of "footprint" the U.S. military will have in the region. But he adds the fact that there will be a "free Iraq" means there would be a smaller U.S. military presence.
He said any final government in Iraq will be decided by the Iraqi people, not the U.S.
On the issue of chemical weapons, the defense secretary said the U.S. has inspection teams inside Iraq searching for evidence of weapons of mass destruction. But he declined to confirm a report that a U.S. team had been told Iraqis destroyed and buried chemical weapons and biological warfare equipment days before the beginning of the war.
The Times reported Monday that U.S. military planners were hoping to gain permanent access to as many as four military bases inside Iraq.
While postwar plans are still in flux, a long-term U.S. presence in Iraq would mirror the permanent stationing of troops in Germany, Japan and South Korea after earlier wars.
Like those other bases, officials told the Times the bases in Iraq would be used to project American power in the region.
The Pentagon may never announce that U.S. troops had established permanent bases; what the military wants is perpetual access to the areas in question, not necessarily a permanent garrison at each site, the newspaper said.
The areas in question are at the former Saddam International Airport outside Baghdad, at Tallil in the south, Bashur in the north and an airfield in the western desert known as H-1.
The report comes amid several current and potential shifts in how the U.S. military arrays its forces around the globe.
Acknowledging that a large U.S. presence in the Middle East could invite terrorism, the Pentagon is looking to offset its new role in Iraq by thinning its forces in places where they have been based for years.
It's already pulling planes out of Turkey and may reduce — but probably not eliminate — the force it has maintained in Saudi Arabia since the 1991 Persian Gulf war. The new bases in Iraq are allowing war commanders to move special operations troops from secret camps in Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
At the same time as the landscape changes in and around Iraq, the U.S. "footprint" is covering a larger area in the wider region. Since Sept. 11, 2001, several countries eager to cooperate with the United States have opened their borders and skies to American military power.
Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan agreed to allow U.S. troops on their soil for the war in Afghanistan and beyond. Afghanistan itself now bases American forces. Qatar, Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary allowed U.S. forces to stage operations in the war against Iraq on their territories.
All these changes take place as Pentagon planners revise traditional troop placements to meet new threats. Even before the war, there was speculation the U.S. might reduce its presence in Germany. There is also the possibility the U.S. presence in South Korea will be reduced, the Los Angeles Times has reported.
One reason for both potential changes is an altered threat: the Soviet military that U.S. troops in Germany were stationed to repel is gone. The North Korean threat now consists as much of ballistic missiles as it does a land invasion.
Another reason could be politics: many South Koreans resent the large U.S. presence there. Threats and politics also make new bases in Iraq potentially valuable.
In the Iraqi neighborhood, any long-term U.S. presence would be a sharp signal to Iran and Syria, two countries the United States has put on notice about alleged weapons programs and support for terrorism.
Iran is a member of the "axis of evil" listed by President Bush last year. Its nuclear development is under scrutiny and the United States has long been listed as a state sponsor of terrorism.
Syria is also considered a supporter of terrorism. While it has provided assistance in the U.S.-led effort to destroy al Qaeda, Bush administration officials have accused it of aiding Iraq during the war, hiding regime officials and possessing chemical weapons.
U.S.-Syrian tensions rose last week when some American officials and advisers suggested military force was an option, although not one they were contemplating at this time. The rhetoric cooled after Secretary of State Colin Powell scheduled a visit to Damascus.
The U.S. military's biggest bases in Europe and Asia are in countries defeated in World War II. There are some 71,000 U.S. troops in Germany and 11,900 in Italy — more than the 11,300 in Britain. Japan hosts 39,000 Americans.
The remnant of the subsequent U.S. war, the Korean conflict, takes the form of 37,000 U.S. soldiers in South Korea.