Rare Visit to al Qaeda Stronghold in Iraq

Terrorists hold a deadly grip over the city of Ramadi, which they use as a base for the insurgency that is taking a terrible toll on the thousands of American troops trying to hold them at bay.

ABC News made a rare visit to this area that few journalists have toured because of the violence.

To get to and from Ramadi, we had to fly lower and faster than you would think possible, a tactic used to avoid surface to air missiles.

U.S. commanders consider the area, located an hour west of Baghdad, to be a magnet for foreign fighters.

"There's no sectarian violence out in Ramadi," said Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, commander of the multinational forces in Iraq. "It's a different fight because you're fighting al Qaeda. You're fighting terrorists."

And the terrorists are fighting hard. They have established Ramadi as a safe haven from which they funnel money, weapons and suicide bombers to the rest of the country.

Just hours before we arrived, three soldiers were killed on these same roads by a huge bomb.

We went past a series of sniper infested buildings before heading to the city center where soldiers told us to keep moving to avoid enemy fire.

After a series of shots were heard, Lt. Col. Stephen Neary, commander of the 3rd Battalion 8th Marines, described that as a daily occurrence.

"That noise you just heard is contact down to our southeast. The enemy likes to stage up there and conduct attacks from there," he said.

In this small Iraqi city alone, nearly 200 soldiers and Marines have died.

The Iraqis had actually started to form a government in Ramadi, but in April a sustained attack essentially scared everyone away.

Now commanders say there is a government of one -- the governor.

And the governor, Mahmoun Sami Rasheed, has survived nearly 30 attempts on his life.

Today the military is making a big push to restore order in Ramadi, but the troops and commanders are under no illusions. Al Qaeda needs Ramadi as a base of operations and will no doubt continue to fight hard.