FALLUJAH, Iraq - Insurgents launched a brazen attack Thursday on an Iraqi civil defense outpost visited by Gen. John Abizaid, commander of all U.S. forces in the Middle East. Abizaid and his party escaped injury in the gun battle.
Just moments after a convoy carrying Abizaid and his party pulled inside the cinderblock walls at the headquarters of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps in this city west of Baghdad, an explosion rang out. Seconds later, two more explosions were heard near the rear of the compound, and U.S. soldiers responded with a barrage of rifle and machine gun fire.
Several attackers fired three rocket-propelled grenades, and another pelted the party with small arms fire from a nearby mosque. The gun battle lasted about six minutes.
No U.S. soldiers and no one in Abizaid's party were injured. Residents said one Iraqi was grazed in the leg by a bullet and slightly injured.
Abizaid was accompanied by Maj. Gen. Charles Swannack, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division. After the gun battle, Abizaid and Swannack canceled plans to walk into the city and instead returned to a U.S. military base near here.
A defense official in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was likely that the insurgents had been tipped off to the presence of the senior general.
However, U.S. officials, briefing reporters at military headquarters in Baghdad, said they were not prepared to make such a link. One noted that rocket attacks in the Fallujah area were relatively common.
In Baghdad, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt issued a statement saying: "Today at 1330 (1:30 p.m. local time) in Fallujah, Gen. Abizaid and Gen. Swannack were visiting an Iraqi Civil Defense Corps battalion headquarters compound when three rocket propelled grenades were fired at their convoy from rooftops in the vicinity. No soldiers or civilians were injured and both coalition and Iraqi civil defense soldiers returned fire and pursued the attackers. A local mosque was thought to be haboring the attackers and Iraqi Civil Defense Corps soldiers conducted a search of the mosque without result."
Kimmitt said Swannack reported that the attack was believed due to "a small number of personnel unrepresentative" of most of the people of Fallujah
After Abizaid left in a convoy of Humvee utility vehicles, soldiers of the 82nd Airborne's 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment asked members of the Iraqi security force to clear the mosque. But they refused.
Abizaid appeared unfazed. Speaking in Arabic to one member of the Iraqi security force after the gunfight, the general asked about the attack and was told, "This is Fallujah. What do you expect."
Later, after he returned to the U.S. base, Abizaid told a reporter, "This is an area where there are plenty of former regime elements out there, willing to fight." Abizaid then flew on to Qatar, as scheduled.
Abizaid was tapped as Central Command chief after Gen. Tommy Franks retired after the ouster of President Saddam Hussein.