RAMADI - Nationwide violence killed 34 people on Sunday while civil servants west of Baghdad returned to work under tight security with Iraqi forces locked in a deadly two-week standoff with militants.

Gunmen and security forces clashed west and south of Baghdad, while bombings and shootings struck the capital and in northern Iraq, areas that have all borne the brunt of a months-long surge in bloodshed. Armoured vehicles and tanks were meanwhile deployed at intersections in Ramadi, a former insurgent stronghold where authorities have wrested control of all but two neighbourhoods from militants as a crisis in surrounding Anbar province entered its 14th day.

Gunmen also hold Fallujah, another Anbar city and former militant bastion located 60 kilometres (37 miles) from Baghdad. It is the first time militants have exercised such open control in major cities since the insurgency that followed the 2003 US-led invasion.

The worst of Sunday’s violence, however, hit the capital and surrounding areas. Car bombs in the predominantly Shiite area of Kadhimiyah and the confessionally mixed Allawi killed 14 people in total, while a roadside bomb in west Baghdad left another person dead. Two militants were killed by security forces just south of Baghdad, while in Abu Ghraib, west of the capital, militants attacked Iraqi soldiers, after which at least one helicopter opened fire. The violence killed at least eight people and wounded 17, but accounts of the incident differed. One security official said all of the dead and wounded were civilians killed by helicopter fire, while a second said the casualties may also include militants, and that the toll was for the entire engagement.

A car bomb targeting army recruits killed at least eight people in Baghdad on Sunday, while six died in other blasts in the Iraqi capital, security and medical officials said.

Recruits gathered at a taxi and bus station in the Allawi area of Baghdad bore the brunt of the blast, which also wounded at least 12 people. The attack followed a suicide bombing targeting army recruits in the capital on Thursday that killed 23 people.

Militants opposed to the Iraqi government frequently target security forces with bombings and shootings. In the Kadhimiyah area of Baghdad, another car bomb exploded in a main square on Sunday, killing five people and wounding at least 14. And a roadside bomb in the Mansur area of the capital killed one person and wounded at least two. Violence in Iraq has reached a level not seen since 2008, when the country was emerging from a period of brutal sectarian killings.

More than 420 people have been killed in fighting and attacks so far this month, according to AFP figures based on security and medical sources.

Meanwhile, a bombing targeting a general in northern Iraq Sunday damaged his vehicle but left him unharmed, an official said, the latest of several attacks in the normally peaceful Kurdish region in recent months.

The magnetic “sticky bomb” attached to Brigadier General Bakhtiyar Fayikh’s car detonated around 8:00 am (0500 GMT) outside his home in eastern Sulaimaniyah, the second-biggest city in the three-province autonomous region of Kurdistan.  Fayikh is a member of the asayesh, Kurdistan’s internal security force.

Asayesh spokesman Rizgar Hama Amin said the blast damaged Fayikh’s car but left him unharmed, while Fayikh himself told journalists the blast was a “terrorist operation”. In early December, two near-simultaneous sticky bombs wounded two other senior Kurdish security officers, while a massive assault on asayesh headquarters in the Kurdish capital Arbil on September 29, later claimed by an Al-Qaeda-linked group, killed seven people.

Swathes of Iraq are still plagued by near-daily violence more than 10 years after the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein. More than 6,800 people were killed as a result of violence last year, and more than 400 have already died this year, according to an AFP tally.

The Kurdish region largely operates autonomously of Baghdad, with its own security forces - made up of the peshmerga and asayesh - and has its own parliament and visa regime.