BAGHDAD — Iraqi officials said Islamist militants have stormed a university in the restive Anbar province west of Baghdad and are holding dozens of staff and students hostage.

The militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group infiltrated the university from the nearby Al-Tasha area, killed its guards, and blew up the bridge leading to its main gate, police said.

Police and army officials say the attack took place Saturday morning when gunmen stormed the university near the provincial capital Ramadi, parts of which have been held by Islamic extremists and other anti-government militants for months. The gunmen have detained dozens of students inside the university dormitory, they said.

The attack is the third major operation by militants in three days, following heavy fighting and suicide bombings in northern Iraq on Friday and a major assault on the city of Samarra on Thursday.

An AFP journalist said that security forces have cordoned off the campus.

The attack came a day after violence, including heavy fighting between militants and security forces and twin suicide bombings targeting a minority group, killed at least 36 people in the northern province of Nineveh.

And on Thursday, militants seized multiple areas of Samarra in a major assault that was only repelled after house-to-house fighting and helicopter strikes.

Violence is running at its highest levels since 2006-2007, when tens of thousands were killed in sectarian conflict between Iraq’s Shiite majority and Sunni Arab minority.

Officials blame external factors for the rise in bloodshed, particularly the civil war in neighboring Syria.

Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media.