By Wathiq Ibrahim
BAGHDAD (Reuters) – The number of civilians killed by violence in Iraq almost doubled in July from June, a sign that insurgents may be trying to exploit political tensions after an election that produced no outright winner.
A total of 396 civilians were killed by bomb blasts or other attacks last month, after 204 died in June and 275 in May, government figures issued late Saturday showed.
The July toll was a far cry from the dark days of all-out sectarian war in 2006/07 but remained high.
Overall violence has fallen sharply since the height of the sectarian war that followed the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. But bombings and assassinations still occur on a daily basis as Sunni Islamists try to reverse the rise of the Shi’ite majority to political dominance.
The U.S. military issued a statement Sunday disputing the Iraqi government figures. It said 161 civilians, 55 Iraqi police and soldiers, and six U.S. soldiers were killed in July for a total of 222 compared to the Iraqi government figure of 535.
U.S. officials did not immediately explain why their figures were sharply lower than those of the government.
Iraqi political parties are still trying to form a government after inconclusive parliamentary elections in March.
Shi’ite, Sunni and Kurdish factions have been negotiating to bring together enough seats for a parliamentary majority but remain stuck over who will hold the highest offices.
Former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s cross-sectarian Iraqiya alliance, backed by minority Sunnis, won 91 seats, two more than the State of Law bloc headed by Shi’ite incumbent Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
Allawi has warned that any attempt by a Shi’ite-led union of State of Law and the third-place finisher, the Iraqi National Alliance, to exclude Iraqiya from government could lead to more violence.
Sunnis dominated Iraq under Saddam Hussein and resentment at their loss of power after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion helped to fuel the insurgency and sectarian fighting.
The monthly casualty statistics, issued by the interior, defense and health ministries, showed that 89 police officers, 50 soldiers, and 100 suspected militants were killed in July and another 955 militants were arrested.
Last week, two car bombs killed at least 19 mainly Shi’ite pilgrims near the holy Shi’ite city of Kerbala, 80 km (50 miles) southwest of Baghdad.
At least 15 people were killed when a car bomb exploded in a crowded market near the city of Baquba in restive northern Diyala province on July 21.
Around 100,000 civilians have died violent deaths in Iraq since the invasion, according to http://www.iraqbodycount.org.