Baghdad - Iraqi government forces and allied tribal militias launched an all-out offensive on Sunday to push al-Qaeda militants from a provincial capital, an assault that killed or wounded about 20 police officers and government-allied tribesmen, officials said.
Since late December, members of Iraq's al-Qaeda branch - known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant - have taken over parts of Ramadi, the capital of the largely Sunni western province of Anbar.
They also control the centre of the nearby city of Fallujah, along with other non-al-Qaeda groups that also oppose the Shi'ite-led government.
A military officer and two local officials said fierce clashes raged through Sunday night in parts of Ramadi, but gave no details.
The two Anbar officials said 20 police officers and allied tribesmen were either killed or wounded during the assault. The officials were unable to provide a breakdown of the casualties.
Hours after the offensive was announced, Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki vowed to continue fighting "terrorism", but left the door open for a political solution.
"Our battle is firstly to beat and eliminate terrorism, though we welcome any solution, any proposal and any political meeting that should realise the priority of destroying terrorism, al-Qaeda, its formations and its allies," al-Maliki said.