The Iraqi army is planning to storm the city of Fallujah 40 miles west of Baghdad, which has been taken over by fighters from al-Qa'ida in Iraq.
Buoyed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) -- an umbrella organisation fighting on both sides of the Syrian border -- the group has torn down Iraqi flags and raised the black al-Qa'ida flag over police stations, set fire to military vehicles on the road to Baghdad and captured 75 government soldiers.
The Iraqi government's control in overwhelmingly Sunni Anbar province, which covers much of western Iraq, is in the balance.
Elsewhere in Iraq, the military tried to dislodge al-Qaida militants in Sunni-dominated Anbar province last night, unleashing airstrikes and besieging the regional capital in fighting that killed at least 34 people. Meanwhile, a series of bombs in Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad killed at least 20 people.
Al-Qa'ida in Iraq, which was seen as largely defeated three years ago, has staged a dramatic resurgence thanks to Isis, seizing significant areas.
Some fighters now holding central Fallujah are reported to be Syrians who have come across the border. The wars in Syria and Iraq are increasingly turning into a single conflict.
The decline in the Iraqi government's position began in December as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki stepped up the pressure on Sunni protesters in Anbar.
The government is under pressure from supporters to stem a wave of bombing attacks by a rejuvenated Isis in 2013 that killed 8,000 civilians and 1,000 police and army. (© Independent News Service)