By Fredrik Dahl and Michael Georgy
BAGHDAD, Iraq (Reuters) - Gunmen in Iraq dragged 24 people, mostly teenage students, from vehicles and shot them dead, police said, as violence raged in the country on Sunday.
Iraqi leaders appeared deadlocked on naming new interior and defence ministers seen as critical to restoring stability in a country bloodied by relentless insurgent and sectarian killings.
Police said gunmen manning a makeshift checkpoint near Udhaim stopped cars approaching the small town 120 km north of Baghdad and killed passengers.
The victims included youths of around 15-16 years who were on their way to the bigger regional town of Baquba to write end of term exams, but also elderly men, they said.
"(The attackers) dragged them one by one from their cars and executed them," said a police official.
The killings took place in Diyala province, scene of frequent attacks by insurgents waging a campaign of bombings and shootings to topple the U.S.-backed, Shi'ite-led government.
Some tried to flee but were gunned down, a police source said. Reuters photographs showed six men shot in the chest, including one old man and five young men.
In Iraq's south, a Sunni religious group accused security forces in the Shi'ite-run city of Basra of killing 12 unarmed worshippers in a mosque early on Sunday, but police said they had returned fire and shot dead nine terrorists.
The incident came just hours after a car bomb killed 28 people in Basra, challenging a state of emergency declared by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to crack down on criminal gangs and Shi'ite factions whose feuding threatens oil exports.
It was among the worst violence Iraq's second city has seen since U.S.-forced invaded to topple Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Communal violence has mounted throughout Iraq since the February bombing of a Shi'ite shrine, touching off a wave of revenge killings that sparked fears of civil war.
The United States, which has 130,000 troops in Iraq, hopes Maliki's broad coalition of majority Shi'ites and minority Sunnis and Kurds will be able to defuse the violence.
Excuse me but ..... If anyone thinks that this situation will not escalate if the troops leave they need their bumps felt.
In this neck of the woods life is cheaper than a tooth pick. These barbaric acts of violence are to become the norm. No one will be safe. Shi'ites hate the Sunnis, Sunnis hate the Shi'ites, there is no common ground not even Islam.