WITH EXPLOSIONS AND GUNFIRE ECHOING IN THE distance, the Marines in the observation post in downtown Ramadi know they are at war. They're just not sure who--or where--the enemy is. In restive Iraqi cities like Ramadi, the U.S. campaign to deny sanctuary to the insurgents consists of a daily assortment of hit-and-run exchanges, alleyway gunfights and nighttime raids. "They've taken the fight into the neighborhoods," says Captain Jeffrey Kenney, commander of Golf Company of the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. "The hardest thing is to ID where the fire is coming from." The jarheads long for a pitched battle but know that will never happen because the rebels aren't suicidal. The Marines must seek out the insurgents and monitor the places where they hide, which is why these Marines are hunkered down in a bullet-pocked building overlooking the Grand Mosque, scanning the streets and rooftops for rebel gunmen. It's exasperating work. "They tend not to get us because they're lousy shots," says Sergeant Jeremy Barone. "We tend not to get them because they run away."
Peril lurks around every corner. Even in Ramadi, a Sunni town that the U.S. military considers under its control, the Marines are ambushed nearly every day by insurgents firing rocket-propelled grenades. Convoys passing through the city must navigate a minefield of roadside bombs. The violence has made it impossible to carry out missions to win the hearts and minds of the locals, most of whom have never warmed to the U.S. presence. The Marines in Ramadi don't use tanks and rarely call in air support; instead, they rely on guile, guts and instinct to hunt down the insurgents. Given the task at hand and the large area of operations, units like Captain Kenney's Golf Company look as if they could use help. But with just 137,000 U.S. troops in Iraq trying to defeat an insurgency that has spread to more than two dozen cities and towns, the Marines know they can't expect much. "Could you spend more time here and get a better impression of the city? Absolutely," Kenney says. "Do I need more people? No, I don't."