Iraqi gunmen ambush visiting U.S. general

February 13, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

FALLUJAH, Iraq - The commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East dropped in for a visit here yesterday, and Iraqi gunmen were waiting.

They were hiding on a rooftop along the main road. When Gen. John Abizaid strode into an Iraqi civil defense station, they fired rocket-propelled grenades at his convoy. They missed the general.

American soldiers responded with a storm of gunfire. The gunmen disappeared. In minutes, it was over, and Abizaid was on his way.

U.S. officials said they would investigate, but they were skeptical of suggestions that the Iraqi gunmen had advance word of the general's visit.

After the attack, Iraqi officers said they were much impressed with Abizaid's fluent Arabic and calm under fire. They dismissed the suggestion that someone in their organization could have tipped off the gunmen, but they conceded that they knew at least two days in advance that someone important was coming for a visit.

"We didn't know who it was, but we were told that someone was going to visit," said Maj. Ahmed Hamudi, the chief of the civil defense office. "Of course, no one in our organization would tell anyone."

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