TWO car bombs have exploded in Baghdad, killing at least 14 people while a standoff between the Iraqi army and al Qaeda-linked militants in Falluja continued.

No group claimed responsibility for the bombings but Sunni Islamist insurgents have stepped up a violent campaign in the past year, engulfing Iraq in its worst bloodshed in five years.

The deadliest blast yesterday killed nine people outside a bus terminal in the Allawi district of the capital, near the site of a bombing four days ago at the small Muthanna airfield in which 23 army recruits were slain. A witness who did not give his name said that the bus-terminal bomb also targeted army recruits who were registering their names at the airfield.

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The government has asked for volunteers to join its military struggle against al Qaeda, which has expanded its presence in the Sunni-dominated province of Anbar bordering Syria, where the militants are also fighting.

Militants seized Falluja and parts of the nearby city of Ramadi, the provincial capital of Anbar, on New Year's Day, raising the stakes in a confrontation with the Shi'ite-led government.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has deployed tanks and artillery around Falluja.

However he is allowing time for negotiations aimed at securing the peaceful eviction of the militants of the al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Security forces and armed tribesmen retook Ramadi last week.

At least 60 civilians and tribal fighters have been killed and nearly 300 wounded in the past two weeks, according to Anbar health officials.

No casualty figures were available for militants or members of the Iraqi armed forces.

Residents of Falluja, 44 miles west of Baghdad, said most shops in the city centre were open yesterday as people prepared for a holiday to mark the anniversary of the Prophet Mohammad's birthday.

Some families who had fled the city have returned.