BAGHDAD — Fierce clashes erupted today between Iraqi special forces and al-Qaida-linked militants outside the city of Fallujah, a flare-up in a days-long standoff in the Sunni-dominated western province of Anbar, Iraqi officials said. The fighting broke out about 12 miles west of Fallujah, following the capture of an army officer and four soldiers in the area a day earlier.
Iraqi security forces and allies from Sunni tribes have been battling militants to recapture two key cities in Iraq’s western Anbar province, Fallujah and Ramadi, the provincial capital. Fighters from an al-Qaida-linked group, known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, control the center of Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad, and part of the nearby Ramadi. The al-Qaida fighters’ seizure of the two cities — once bloody battlegrounds for U.S. troops — poses the most serious challenge to the country’s Shiite-led government since the departure of American forces in late 2011.