For an hour and a half on Monday, Sunni rebels went at an Iraqi government headquarters and two U.S. military outposts in the town of Ramadi. They used everything they had — suicide car bombs, rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons.
U.S. troops finally turned them back, and there were no reports of American casualties. But the battle underlined the fact that the insurgency is alive and well in that area west of Baghdad. which is why CBS News correspondent Lara Logan went there and filed this report.
As you head into downtown Ramadi, you're left in no doubt this is enemy territory for U.S. forces. The Marine commander in charge calls it, "the toughest piece of dirt in Iraq" — so tough that every time his Marines leave their base, they know there's a good chance they won't make it back.
Just days before one patrol, four men did not. They were killed by a roadside bomb. The unit had only been on the ground a month.
"They take cover from snipers where they can — and constantly keep moving," says one Marine.
Capt. Andrew Del Gaudio is only 30, but he's a 13-year Marine and is in his third tour of duty in Iraq. That experience counts as he leads his men along tense streets to a house where they believe a suspected insurgent lives.
The family doesn't seem at all surprised when their home is suddenly invaded by the Marines … it's something you have to get used to when you live "on the toughest piece of dirt in Iraq".
"Any weapons we can take off the street, it's always gonna be OK for us," Del Gaudio says. "The last thing we want is to get shot with it later."
While the Marines search every room in the house, Jeffrey Gurski, a 21-year-old private who's in his first tour in Iraq, is pulling guard duty on the roof.
But does he know who he's fighting?
"Yes and no," he says. "You have some guys shooting at you — and five minutes later, the same guy could be walking on the street like a regular civilian … and you would never know that this guy was shooting at you."
Inside the house, the Marines are trying to calm two young boys they've brought here from th3e house next door after detaining their father Nothing the Marines do seems to help. It's only when the boys join their Iraqi neighbors in the next-door room that they finally fall silent.
The marines know every minute they spend here exposes them to possible attack. "Everything here is a damn threat — snipers, machine gunfire on a regular basis, rockets and IED's," Del Gaudio says.
They face all those threats as they head out, knowing they still have to make it back to their base at the local government center. As they finally approach the gates, the marines throw smoke grenades to mask their movements.
They may be home — but even here they're not quite safe. They regularly get attacked inside the base, where the local Iraqi government is housed. But on this day, at least, the Marines of Company K were able to breathe a sigh of relief.