Three Iraqi policemen were seriously injured in a bomb blast in the western city of Falluja on Monday, police said, as some 26,000 Iraqi soldiers and police began a sweep of the area.

The blast, which police said ripped through a patrol vehicle and left three policemen in serious condition, came amid a major police and military offensive against al—Qaeda and related armed groups in western Iraq.

The operation seeks to foil “any terrorist plot that could affect the security situation,” General Bahai Hussein al—Karkhi, chief of police for the predominantly Sunni Muslim al—Anbar province, was quoted as saying by the Baghdad—based al—Sabah newspaper on Monday.

He said the raids would focus on the area around the cities of Ramadi, Falluja, Hit, Haditha and Qaim, formerly the site of some of the worst fighting between insurgents and US and Iraqi forces.

The Iraqi government has been under particularly intense pressure to crack down on political violence following a string of deadly bombings amid ongoing political wrangling over the disputed March parliamentary election.

A joint Iraqi—US operation has also been combing remote areas of the northeastern Diyala province. Police said raids on Sunday had uncovered vital documents detailing al—Qaeda’s operations and plans in Iraq and neighbouring countries.

Al—Qaeda, in a message posted to Islamist websites, on Sunday confirmed the death last week of two of its senior leaders in Iraq, Abu Ayyub al—Masri and Abu Omar al—Baghdadi.

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