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Commander doubts he was target in Iraq

Associated Press

One day after coming under attack in Iraq, the Army general who runs the war said Friday in an Associated Press interview that he believes it was a random assault. He discounted suggestions the insurgents may have been tipped off to his movements.

"I think it was random, sure," Gen. John Abizaid said, speaking in his office at Central Command's Persian Gulf headquarters, where he returned Thursday night after two days of visiting troops in Iraq.

He said he was not convinced that his security had been breached. More likely, he said, the insurgents who fired three rocket-propelled grenades from a nearby rooftop in the city of Fallujah - and another gunman who fired some sort of small arms from a mosque - did not know he was present.

Abizaid, traveling in a convoy of about eight vehicles - mostly conventional Humvee utility vehicles - was visiting the local headquarters of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, a kind of militia force that is being created by the Americans throughout Iraq to help stamp out the insurgency.

Seconds after he and his party got out of the vehicles the attack ensued. No one inside the compound was injured.

In the AP interview on Friday morning, Abizaid played down the significance of the event.

"We were never in danger," he said. "It was a minor attack, and the troops responded well."

He added, however, that the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps unit in Fallujah is not yet prepared to handle that kind of situation. He said they had been in training for two or three weeks.

Asked whether he was concerned that insurgents have infiltrated the emerging U.S.-sponsored Iraqi security services, such as the police and the civil defense corps, Abizaid said, "Any security service is going to be infiltrated. The question is, is it going to be infiltrated to the point where it undermines the effectiveness of the security institution, and I think the answer is no."

Looking ahead to the planned transition to a sovereign Iraqi government this summer, Abizaid said it was not yet clear whether it would result in a "hard landing" - a rise in tension and violence that requires the U.S. military to maintain the large force of more than 100,000 troops that it has there now.

Abizaid said he thought it more likely there will be a "soft landing," possibly allowing the American military to gradually reduce its presence.

The four-star general, who is responsible for U.S. military activities in 26 countries stretching from the Horn of Africa, through the Persian Gulf to Pakistan and the rest of Central Asia, said he was not convinced the price being paid in U.S. casualties in Iraq has become too high.

As of Friday, 538 U.S. troops have died since the war began 11 months ago.

"I don't know that the American public is counting; I know that the media is counting," he said.

"The problem that I think we want to understand, as professional soldiers, is that war is a very random and dangerous experience and people get hurt and people get killed and it's part of what happens to us professionally."


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