Fighters linked to al-Qaeda have been targeted in air strikes in the province of Anbar after it was reported they had taken over parts of two cities.
A suicide bomber has killed at least 15 people in a separate incident north east of Baghdad.
In the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi jihadist militants have posted videos of themselves burning government vehicles and setting up checkpoints.
Their action is seen as a direct challenge to the authority of the Shia Prime MInister, Nuri al-Malaki.
“The military operations in Anbar have political goals to achieve. Al-Maliki wants to achieve security and so make political gains in the province, but at the same time he doesn’t want to present gifts to the Sunni politicians that he has always accused of being involved with terrorism,” said Ali al-Sari a political commentator.
The air strikes come on the back of operations in December including one codenamed “Iron Hammer” which was launched after at least 18 soldiers including a commander were killed by militants.
The UN says 2013 was the deadliest year in Iraq since 2008 with over 8,500 civilians and military killed in violent attacks.