- Associated Press - Sunday, August 1, 2010

BAGHDAD (AP) — July was Iraq’s deadliest month in more than two years, according to new official figures, suggesting that a resilient insurgency is successfully taking advantage of the months of deadlock in forming a new government.

The figures released late Saturday show that 535 people were killed last month, the highest since May 2008, when 563 died, heightening concerns over Iraq’s precarious security situation even as U.S. troops are reducing their numbers.

The U.S. military vehemently rejected the casualty numbers Sunday afternoon, however, countering that its own data showed that only 222 Iraqis were killed in July.

“We do our very best to be vigilant to ensure the numbers we report are as accurate as can be,” spokesman Lt. Col. Bob Owen said.


The military’s rejection of the Iraqi figures, compiled by the ministries of defense, interior and health, comes at a delicate time. The American military has pronounced Iraq’s security as stabilizing and is going ahead with plans to send home all but 50,000 troops by the end of the month.

The increase in violence has been linked to insurgent attempts to destabilize the country as it struggles to sort out the inconclusive results of national elections nearly five months ago.

The political impasse deepened this weekend, when a Shi’ite bloc nominally allied with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s coalition publicly announced its rejection of his candidacy for a second term in office.

In an announcement, the Iraqi National Alliance said it was also suspending contacts with Mr. al-Maliki’s State of Law bloc until it puts forward another candidate for the prime minister’s job. The merger between the two blocs, which leaves them just a few seats shy of a majority, however, remained intact, it said.

Opposition within the alliance to Mr. al-Maliki long has been known, but the announcement was significant for its emphatic tone.

With the holy month of Ramadan to start in the second week of August, there seems to be little hope of a political breakthrough before at least mid-September.

The pace of life slows down considerably during Ramadan, when devout Muslims refrain from eating, drinking and smoking from dawn to dusk. This year’s fast is expected to be especially challenging in view of Iraq’s unforgiving summer heat.

The monthly toll released by Iraqi authorities also showed 1,043 people were wounded last month. Of those killed, the ministries identified 396 as civilians, 89 as policemen and 50 as soldiers.

Bombings and mortar attacks targeting Shi’ites on two religious pilgrimages last month, a bombing against anti-al-Qaeda Sunni militiamen south of Baghdad and another that hit a Shi’ite mosque north of the capital killed at least 160 people and boosted the July death toll significantly.

Bombings, assassinations and gunfights remain daily occurrences in Iraq, particularly in the capital, although the overall level of violence has declined dramatically since 2008. However, concerted attacks on Shi’ite civilians blamed on al Qaeda militants are thought to be designed to reignite the sectarian strife that pushed the country to the brink of all-out civil war in 2006 and 2007.

Civilians also accounted for the overwhelming majority of the wounded in July — 680 of the 1,043. There were also 165 soldiers and 198 policemen among the wounded, according to the ministries.

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