Fierce clashes have erupted between Iraqi special forces and al-Qaeda-linked fighters in a village in the western Anbar province, officials say.
The village, al-Bubali, lies between Fallujah and Ramadi, two cities in Anbar that are under siege by Iraqi security forces and their allies from Sunni Arab tribes.
Several army vehicles were damaged by roadside bombs planted around al-Bubali by the fighters, a police officer told the AP news agency on Friday.
There was no immediate word on casualties.
The military and the allied tribesmen are trying to recapture parts of Fallujah and Ramadi after they came under the control of fighters from the al-Qaeda-linked group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) last week.
The fighters seized police stations and military posts, freeing prisoners and setting up their own checkpoints.
Dhari al-Rishawi, Anbar’s provincial spokesman, said fighting was also under way on Friday along the southern edges of Ramadi, the provincial capital.
Iraqi troops have clashed with the al-Qaeda fighters mainly on the outskirts of Fallujah and Ramadi and have carried out occasional air attacks on the fighters’ positions.
But they have held off on launching a major offensive to retake the two cities, fearing that possible civilian casualties could inflame Sunni Arab anger and push tribal leaders to side with those battling government troops.
However, Mohammed al-Askari, Defence Ministry spokesman, told AP on Friday that the government’s patience would not last forever.
Thousands of people fled the fighting in Fallujah, where the humanitarian situation is rapidly deteriorating.
The UN and humanitarian organisations have said that people who were trapped in the city lack access to food or fuel.
Sectarian tensions have been rising for months in Anbar as Sunni Arabs held protests against what they perceive as discrimination and random arrests by the country’s Shia-led central government.
Violence escalated after the December 28 arrest of a Sunni politician sought on terrorism charges and the government’s dismantling of a year-old Sunni protest camp in Ramadi.