Iraq death toll spikes in January: AFP data

January was Iraq's deadliest month since September, AFP data showed Friday, as militants shattered a relative calm and the country grapples with a political crisis and anti-government rallies.

The violence largely targeted security forces and officials, and struck Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish communities, mostly north and west of Baghdad.

Al-Qaeda's front group in Iraq has claimed much of the violence, including a suicide bombing that killed a Sunni MP, and a string of attacks in mid-January.

The militant group often carries out deadly attacks in order to destabilise the government and push Iraq back towards the sectarian war that blighted it from 2005 to 2008.

A total of 246 people were killed last month, including 30 policemen and 18 soldiers, according to an AFP tally based on reports from security and medical officials.

Two anti-Qaeda militiamen known as Sahwa also died.

Some 735 other people were also wounded in violence, among them 31 policemen, 26 soldiers, six members of the security forces of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region, and one Sahwa fighter.

The death toll was the highest since September, when 253 people died, and comes with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki mired in a political crisis that has pitted himself against many of his erstwhile government partners.

Meanwhile, massive protests in Sunni-majority areas of Iraq's north and west have railed against alleged targeting of the community and, more recently, called for the premier to quit.

Most of the victims last month were killed in two separate strings of violence -- 88 people were killed in the January 15-17 period, and 70 others for January 22-23.

The month's deadliest single attack struck on January 23, when a suicide bomber made his way into a Shiite mosque and blew himself up in the middle of a packed funeral, killing 42 people.

A day earlier, a wave of attacks in and around Baghdad and in northern Iraq killed 26 people and wounded dozens more.

And on January 17, spate of bombings and shootings across the country left 29 people dead, in a third day of deadly violence that killed 88 people overall.

Violence is down markedly from its peak in 2006 and 2007, but attacks remain common.