At least 15 Iraqi soldiers have been killed in a blast and subsequent clashes with al-Qaeda-linked militants west of the capital, Baghdad, officials say.
The officials said the explosion took place on Saturday when a group of soldiers searched a farmhouse in Garma town near the city of Fallujah, 65 kilometers west of Baghdad.
Minutes later, the militants opened fire on arriving soldiers, the officials noted, adding that 24 troops were also injured.
Iraq is experiencing its deadliest cycle of violence with Anbar Province viewed as the epicenter of al-Qaeda-linked militancy that has gripped the country’s west over the past two months.
Violence hiked in Iraq’s Anbar Province in December 2013, when the army removed an anti-government protest camp in Ramadi. Authorities said the camp was used as “headquarters for the leadership of al-Qaeda.” The bloodshed later spread to the nearby city of Fallujah.
Experts and politicians say terrorist groups such as the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) are coming to Iraq from neighboring Syria and Saudi Arabia to undermine security in the country.
Iraqi officials, including Prime Minister Nuri Maliki, have pointed the finger at Riyadh, saying the Saudi regime is funding and arming militants fighting against government forces in western Iraq.
Last month, the UN envoy to Iraq Nickolay Mladenov said that some 400,000 people have been displaced so far this year by the growing violence in Anbar.