FALLUJAH, Iraq - Gunmen disguised as police raided checkpoints and homes in western Iraq on Monday, killing at least 27 members of the security forces, police said, in an attack the authorities said bore the hallmarks of al-Qaida.

Mohammed Fathi, spokesman for the governor of Anbar province, said the attack bore the "fingerprints of al-Qaida."

The brazen attacks in what was once Iraq's most violent province raises concern that Iraq's branch of al-Qaida may regain a foothold in Anbar after the withdrawal of US troops in December.

Anbar was almost entirely under control of al-Qaida during the height of Iraq's insurgency from 2005-07, when the militants were defeated by local tribesmen and US forces.

"The gunmen used security vehicles and from 2:00 a.m. (2300 GMT) until 3:30 a.m. they carried out attacks on checkpoints in central Haditha and the nearby town of Barwana," the police source, who did not give his name because he was not authorized to speak to the media, told Reuters in Fallujah.

Fathi, the governor's spokesman, said the attackers may have intended to derail a summit of Arab leaders set for later this month. Iraq is due to host a summit of the Arab League, its first since the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, and its leaders have been at pains to say security is under control.

Al-Qaida and other Sunni militant groups oppose the Shi'ite-led government in Baghdad and say they will continue to fight despite the withdrawal of US forces last year.

Tension has risen between Anbar and the Shi'ite-led central government in recent months, following an arrest campaign against former members of Saddam's banned Baath party.

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