Deadly violence in Iraq declined slightly in July from the previous month but still marked the second-highest death toll for the year, data published on Monday showed.
The latest figures come days after a US watchdog warned that Iraq was a more dangerous country than a year ago ahead of a "summer of uncertainty" in which politicians in Baghdad have to decide whether to retain an American military presence beyond a year-end withdrawal deadline for US forces.
Figures compiled by the ministries of health, interior and defence showed that a total of 259 Iraqis -- 159 civilians, 56 policemen and 44 soldiers -- died as a result of attacks last month.
The overall toll represented a slight drop from June's figure of 271 killed, but remained the second-highest monthly death toll. A total of 259 people were also killed in January.
The figures were, however, dramatically lower than for the same month last year, when 535 people were reported killed. July marks the sixth consecutive such month with a lower death toll than a year ago.
US Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) Stuart Bowen warned in a report published on Saturday, however, that the country was less safe than one year ago and that security was deteriorating.
"Iraq remains an extraordinarily dangerous place to work," Bowen said. "It is less safe, in my judgment, than 12 months ago."
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Bowen noted that June was the deadliest month for US military personnel since April 2009, and that April-July saw the highest number of assassinations of senior Iraqi officials since SIGIR began tracking such figures.
He warned that while joint efforts by the US and Iraq had lowered the threat posed by insurgent groups, "foreign (-backed) militias have become cause for concern," and added that the past quarter "also saw an increase in the number of rockets hitting the International Zone and the US embassy compound as well."
Bowen characterised Iraq as being in a "summer of uncertainty."
July's death toll was marked by major attacks in the cities of Taji and Tikrit, both north of Baghdad.
The July 5 attack in Taji involved twin suicide bombs which killed 35 people and wounded 28. On July 28, two blasts involving a car bomb and a suicide attack in Tikrit killed 12 people and injured 31.
A total of 453 people were wounded in July -- 199 civilians, 135 policemen and 119 soldiers. The figures also showed that 22 insurgents were killed and 115 arrested.
Five American soldiers also died in July, four of them in "hostile" incidents, bringing the overall number of US troops to have died in Iraq since the 2003 invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein to 4,474, according to data compiled by independent website www.icasualties.org.
There are approximately 47,000 US troops still in Iraq, but they must all withdraw from the country at the end of the year, under the terms of a bilateral security pact.
US officials have pressed their Iraqi counterparts to decide quickly whether they want any American military presence beyond that date, and proposals for a training mission are gaining traction among Iraqi leaders, although nothing has yet been agreed.