Baghdad - July was the deadliest month in Iraq in almost two years, with 325 people killed in attacks, and included the deadliest day here since December 2009, official figures released on Wednesday showed.
Experts pointed to both internal Iraqi political crises and instability in neighbouring Syria, where President Bashar Assad's forces are fighting an uprising against his rule, as potential causes of the spike in violence.
The statistics compiled by the health, interior and defence ministries showed that 325 people - 241 civilians, 40 police and 44 soldiers - were killed nationwide during July.
Another 697 people - 480 civilians, 122 police and 95 soldiers - were wounded. It was the highest monthly toll given by the government since August 2010, when figures showed 426 people killed and 838 wounded in attacks.
The previous highest official toll this year was for January, when government figures showed that 151 Iraqis were killed and 321 wounded in attacks.
Government figures are usually lower than those given by other sources, but the July toll was higher than a tally kept by AFP based on reports from security and medical officials.
According to the AFP tally, at least 278 people were killed and 683 wounded in July, down slightly from at least 282 fatalities in June.
While violence has decreased from its peak in 2006-2007, attacks are still near-daily occurrences in Iraq.
Of the 31 days in July, there were attacks on 27 of them, with 10 or more people killed in attacks on five separate days - at least 39 on 3 July, 11 on 4 July, 17 on 22 July, 113 on 23 July, and 23 on 31 July.
The 23 July violence, in which about 259 people were also wounded in attacks across the country, was the deadliest single day of violence in Iraq since 126 people were killed and hundreds wounded on 8 December 2009.
The wave of violence consisted of at least 29 separate attacks in 19 cities, with most of the unrest concentrated in Baghdad and areas north of the capital.
In the deadliest incidents - a string of roadside bombs and a car bomb followed by a suicide attack targeting emergency responders in the town of Taji, just north of Baghdad - at least 42 people were killed and 40 wounded, medical officials said.
Two days later, al-Qaeda's front group here, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), claimed the attacks, saying they were part of a new campaign in the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
"As part of the new military campaign aimed at recovering territory given up by the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), the war ministry has sent its sons and the mujahedeen on a sacred offensive during the month of Ramadan," the group said.
"The operation by the jihadists has stunned the enemy and made him lose his head. It has demonstrated the failings of the security and intelligence services," it continued.
Al-Qaeda in Iraq is regarded by Iraqi officials as significantly weaker than at the peak of its strength in 2006 and 2007, but it is still capable of spectacular mass-casualty attacks across the country.
"The reasons behind the escalation of violence in the country are political, security and strategic," with the latter linked to the conflict in Syria, said Ali al-Haidari, an Iraqi analyst and expert in security and strategic issues.
And "the differences between the political entities in Iraq reflect negatively on security and economic processes, amid a lack of confidence between the political partners and a lack of consensus in political security decision-making", he said.
Lack of authority
Opponents of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have accused him of moving toward dictatorship and sought to remove him from power, while Baghdad is at odds with the autonomous Kurdistan region over issues including oil contracts and territorial disputes.
John Drake, a security analyst with AKE Group, pointed to hot summer temperatures making it more difficult for security forces to remain vigilant all day, and broader issues such as the departure of US troops at the end of 2011, internal Iraqi political crises, and Syria.
"Syria presents a real opportunity to terrorists. The lack of authority in large swathes of the country could provide these groups with extensive opportunity to consolidate their strength and launch attacks in the wider region," Drake said by email.