WASHINGTON, DC—At a Pentagon press conference Monday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld touted the military's upcoming Gulf War II: The Vengeance as "even better than the original."

Donald Rumsfeld debriefs reporters on the upcoming <i>Gulf War</i> sequel, scheduled to hit Iraq March 22.

"If you thought the first one was good, just wait until you see the sequel," Rumsfeld said of Gulf War II, scheduled to hit Iraqi theaters of operation March 22. "In the original, as you no doubt know, we defeat Saddam Hussein, only to let him slip away at the very end. This time, we're going back in to take out the trash."

Rumsfeld said the soon-to-be-unleashed war will feature special effects beyond anything seen in the original.

"Gulf War I was done 11 years ago, and war-making technology has advanced tremendously since then," Rumsfeld said. "From the guns to the planes to the missile-guidance systems, what you'll see in this one puts the original Gulf War to shame."

"The budget for Gulf War II: The Vengeance is somewhere in the neighborhood of $85 billion," Rumsfeld continued. "And every penny of it is up there on your screen."

Waged in 1991 at a cost of $61 billion, the first Gulf War was a major hit, making household names out of stars Colin Powell, Norman Schwarzkopf, and Wolf Blitzer. Asked who would star in the sequel, General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was coy.

A publicity still from <i>Gulf War II</i>.

"I don't want to give away too much, but let's just say you're likely to see a few familiar faces pop up," Myers said. "I will say that the son of one of the key characters in the first one, back then just a boy, is now all grown up and ready to take his rightful place at the head of the alliance."

Myers did confirm that the plot revolves around the Rebel forces' efforts to capture arch-nemesis Hussein, whom they believe is building a weapon of mass destruction somewhere deep within the mysterious and forbidding No-Fly Zone.

"Obviously, Saddam will be back," Myers said. "He's the perfect villain: ruthless, efficient, and sinister. It would be an affront to all the fans not to include him. Beyond that, what's going to happen is anybody's guess. One thing, though, is guaranteed: We're going to have more action, more danger, and definitely more kill power than the first time around."

"We've already started preliminary shooting," Myers said, "and so far, what we've got is unbelievable."

In addition to a major PR push, Gulf War II will be accompanied by a major merchandising campaign. Pentagon has secured the commitment of Topps for a series of cards supporting the effort. It has also brokered a first-look deal with CNN, guaranteeing the network full access to the front lines, as well as first crack at interviewing the men and women behind the scenes. The Pentagon has also signed Dan Rather to a two-cry deal.

In the 11 years since the original Gulf War, few conflicts have come close to matching the level of support and press attention generated by that operation.

"We were disappointed by our numbers in Bosnia," Rumsfeld said. "That particular conflict played primarily to an art-house crowd. Your mainstream audiences didn't connect with the complexities of the centuries-old ethnic clash you had going there. But this time, we feel we've got something very accessible that will play in Peoria. I mean, how can you go wrong with an 'Axis of Evil'?"

Though Gulf War II does not open fire for another two weeks, it has screened for select audiences in Los Angeles. Ain't It Cool News, the popular website run by Harry Knowles, recently leaked an advance review of the conflict.

"The battle sequences are even better than Black Hawk Down," Knowles wrote. "And Afghan leader Hamid Karzai, while only given a little action, exudes a Tarantino cool."

Pentagon officials, meanwhile, are already thinking about a third installment.

"There's no reason this Iraq thing can't be a franchise for us like those wars with Germany or the Communists used to be," Rumsfeld said. "The public loves it, the soldiers love it, the media love it. And even if the U.S. wins at the end of the second one, there are still plenty of possibilities for a third: Saddam could be destroyed, only to be replaced by an even greater evil. Then, of course, there's the prequel set in the Stone Age, the era we bomb Iraq back to at the end of the third one. As far as we're concerned, this thing is just getting started."