Iraqi tribesmen backed by police special forces and helicopter gunships have attacked al Qaeda-linked militants in the eastern and southern outskirts of the city of Ramadi.

The ground forces reportedlty retook a police station in alHamthiya on the eastern outskirts of the city after helicopters fired missiles and machineguns at militant hideouts in the area.

Yesterday's fighting around Ramadi, the capital of the western Sunni province of Anbar, was some of the heaviest in several days.

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The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, an al Qaeda offshoot also fighting in Syria, and its local allies overran parts of Ramadi, as well as the nearby city of Falluja, on January 1 after security forces broke up a Sunni protest camp near Ramadi and arrested an outspoken Sunni lawmaker.

The security forces and Sunni tribesmen opposed to al Qaeda had regained control of most of Ramadi earlier this month, but militants retained footholds on the edges of the city.

The authorities imposed an indefinite curfew in Ramadi, 60 miles west of Baghdad, yesterday to try to avert civilian casualties.