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 that lasted about six minutes.
No U.S. soldiers and no one in Abizaid's party were 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.
It was not immediately clear whether the attackers were killed in the exchange.
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 was tapped as Central Command chief after Gen. Tommy Franks retired after the ouster of President Saddam Hussein.