The government of Nuri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, no longer issues official casualty statistics and refuses to provide figures to UN human rights monitors.

The June casualties are the lowest since the launch of the US and Iraqi military crackdown known as Operation Fardh al-Qanoon (Imposing the Law) in and around Baghdad on February 14.

In that month, 1,626 civilians were reported killed.

One of the key reasons for the fall is thought to be that most senior Shia fighters considered responsible for the widespread killings of Sunni Muslims are thought to have left the capital to avoid the assault.

Violence continues

On Sunday, two Iraqi policemen were killed and four people were  wounded when a roadside bomb struck a patrol in Baghdad's central  Zayuna neighbourhood, security officials said.

A civilian was killed and three more wounded when a car bomb blew up in a commercial area of Baghdad's southwest Saidiyah neighbourhood, while three people were wounded in a roadside bomb in the western Mansur area.

In the western province of Anbar, where local tribes have recently joined with US-led forces to battle al-Qaeda, a suicide bomber attempted to ram a truck loaded with explosives into a police  checkpoint near the town of Fallujah.

Second lieutenant RA Hollenbeck, a US marine, said: "Police manning a checkpoint observed a large truck travelling against traffic.

"The police signalled to the driver to pull over but the dump truck continued toward the checkpoint."

"The police engaged the truck causing it to detonate. The blast from the suicide bomb killed one policeman and injured four police."

In a further attack, fighters simultaneously attempted to detonate truck bombs on either side of a bridge north of Ramadi, the Anbar provincial capital.
  
Election call

In a separate development, al-Maliki said he was determined to hold provincial elections by the end of this year as part of plans to delegate more power to the country's divided communities.

He said: "We are determined to carry out provincial council elections  this year and it is incumbent on us not to surrender to the  challenges we face.

Al-Maliki, left, says he is determined 
provincial elections will go ahead [Gallo/Getty]
 
"It does not matter who wins, as long as the victor is a son of  Iraq and works in the interest of its people. It is important that  the elections are carried out with fairness, benefiting from  previous experience."

The holding of local elections has emerged as one of several "benchmarks" of political progress demanded by Washington as a means  of resolving the country's various sectarian and ethnic conflicts.

Local elections are also seen as a way to allow more Sunni Muslims to acquire political power and deter them from fighting.

Iran meeting 

Meanwhile, Hoshiyar Zebari, Iraq's foreign minister, said he was pressing the US and Iran to hold a second round of talks in Baghdad to follow up a landmark meeting in May, but that no date has been set.

Ryan Crocker, the US ambassador to Iraq, and Hassan Kazemi-Qomi, his Iranian counterpart, met in Baghdad on May 28 to discuss security in Iraq in what was the most high-profile meeting of the two arch enemies in almost three decades.

Both envoys described the talks as positive.

Iraq has invited both sides to meet again but neither have publicly said they would accept.

Zebari said: "We felt that there is a common interest in pursuing these talks, in having a second meeting, but no date has been agreed yet.

"We are working on that. There would be a second round, I hope so."
 
Prisoner access

Zebari also said on Sunday that the US embassy in Baghdad had agreed to give Iran consular access to five Iranians who were detained by US forces in northern Iraq in January.

The US military says the five are linked to Iran's Revolutionary Guards and are backing fighters in Iraq.

Iran says they are diplomats and has been requesting access to them.

Zebari said he hoped the consular visit to the detainees, who were taken seized in the Kurdish city of Arbil, would help ease tensions.

There was no date for the visit, but it could happen any time, he said.
   
The foreign minister said he understood a US military board would not review the case of the five men until October.  

Source: Agencies