updated 6/1/2009 4:10:26 PM ET 2009-06-01T20:10:26

Iraqi civilian deaths fell dramatically in May after what was the bloodiest month of the year, officials said Monday, but a deadly bombing in a Baghdad market shows the dangers still facing Iraqis.

It was unclear whether the sharp drop in Iraqi deaths represented a significant improvement in security or a tactical decision by extremists to refrain from major attacks, perhaps holding their fire until U.S. combat troops pull out of Baghdad and other cities by the end of this month.

At least 134 Iraqi civilians were killed in May, compared with 290 in the previous month, according to figures compiled by three Iraqi ministries. Deaths among Iraqi security forces fell too — 31 in May compared with 65 in April, according to the government.

An Associated Press tally, based on reports from local police, military officials and hospitals, also showed a sharp drop in deaths but with different figures. The AP count showed 176 Iraqi civilians were killed in May — down from 288 the month before.

Iraqi security forces deaths fell from 83 in April to 49 in May, according to the AP tally.

Discrepancies in casualty tolls are common in Iraq. Nevertheless, both the government and the AP tallies indicate that the surge in bombings and other attacks in April was not replicated last month.

U.S. military deaths up
By comparison, U.S. military deaths rose from 19 in April to at least 24 in May — the highest monthly toll since last September when 25 U.S. service members died.

Five of the American victims, however, were killed in a May 11 shooting at a counseling center at Camp Liberty in Baghdad. Sgt. John M. Russell has been charged with five counts of murder.

A string of four high-profile bombings during a seven-day period in April killed nearly 200 people, raising fears that Sunni insurgents had regrouped and rearmed after suffering major setbacks on the battlefield after the U.S. troop surge of 2007.

In all, April's carnage claimed at least 451 Iraqi and non-American lives, according to AP figures, matching the figure of last October and the deadliest month this year. The April deaths included 80 Iranian pilgrims killed in a bombing north of Baghdad.

May's AP tally of 225 deaths — civilians and security troops — was the lowest since the agency began tracking Iraqi casualties in May 2005.

In the meantime, Iraqi authorities say they broke up several Sunni insurgent cells in the capital this month, including some with Tunisian and Moroccan fighters. They cited the arrests as one of the reasons behind the drop in bombings.

Bombings continue
Nevertheless, attacks have continued, although at a lower level.

Four people were killed and 14 were wounded when a bomb exploded Monday morning at the Rasheed wholesale produce market in the Dora district of south Baghdad, police said.

A bomb at the same market last month killed 15 people wounded nearly 50.

The blast occurred in a mostly Sunni part of Dora, which used to be an al-Qaida stronghold. Most of the farmers who bring produce to the market are Shiites.

An Iraq police official said the bomb Monday was planted near the front gate of the market. Fruits and vegetables were scattered amid burning vehicles near the gate after the blast.

"I heard a big explosion, followed by a ball of fire and smoke billowing up," said merchant Falah Amer al-Jubouri, who was bargaining with wholesale dealers when the bomb went off.

"Everyone rushed outside to see burning cars with dead and wounded people trapped inside them," he said.

Also Monday, a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-laden vehicle at a checkpoint near a police station in the northern town of Jalula, killing a 7-year-old child and wounding eight other people, an Iraqi police official said.

A grenade thrown at a U.S. patrol in the northern city of Mosul missed the Americans but killed one Iraqi and wounded 15 others, according to a provincial police official.

The Iraqi officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information to.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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