US forces commander survives ambush in Fallujah

THE commander of United States troops in the Middle East survived an ambush in Iraq yesterday, after his convoy came under attack during a visit to a civil defence outpost.

General John Abizaid was visiting the headquarters of the Iraqi Civil Defence Corps, in Fallujah, when the compound was rocked by three explosions.

The attackers fired three rocket-propelled grenades and sprayed the outpost with small-arms fire from a mosque during a gunfight that lasted about six minutes.

Gen Abizaid was accompanied by Major-General Charles Swannack, the commander of the 82nd Airborne Division. After the firefight, the pair cancelled plans to walk into the city and instead returned to a US military base.

A defence official in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was likely that the insurgents had been tipped off as to the presence of the senior general.

However, US 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, Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt issued a statement saying:

"No soldiers or civilians were injured and both coalition and Iraqi civil-defence soldiers returned fire and pursued the attackers."

Gen Abizaid appeared unfazed in the wake of the attack. Speaking in Arabic to one member of the Iraqi security force after the incident, the general asked about the attack and was told, "This is Fallujah. What do you expect?"

Later, on his return to the US base, the general told a reporter, "This is an area where there are plenty of former regime elements out there, willing to fight."

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