Image: Victims of Iraq violence
Hadi Mizban  /  AP
Victims lie injured at a hospital after a car bomb on Monday in Kut, Iraq.
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updated 8/16/2011 3:03:01 PM ET 2011-08-16T19:03:01

Gunmen wearing military uniforms pulled seven people from a Sunni mosque south of Baghdad and then shot and killed them execution-style, officials said Tuesday, raising the death toll to 70 in Iraq's deadliest day this year.

The killings late Monday came at the end of a day that saw a wave of crushing violence sweep across Iraq, from the northern city of Mosul to the Shiite heartland — including suicide bombings, roadside bombs and shootings. The violence was reminiscent of the bloodletting that used to plague Iraq daily a few years ago and a stark warning that al-Qaida in Iraq is still a force to be reckoned with.

Story: Bomb blasts kill at least 60 in cities across Iraq

The fact that militants were able to pull off such a wave of violence is especially disturbing considering that U.S. forces are scheduled to leave Iraq at the end of this year, leaving the country's security in the hands of still-struggling Iraqi security forces.

Iraqi officials announced earlier this month that they would discuss with the U.S. having a small group of trainers in the country past Dec. 31 but no deal has been finalized.

In the execution-style attack late Monday, the gunmen walked into a Sunni mosque in the town of Youssifiyah during evening prayers, took the seven men outside and shot them, said officials with the Ministry of Interior and the town hospital.

The men were all members of a militia created during the height of the sectarian conflict of Sunnis who used to be aligned with al-Qaida but later turned on them.

Video: In Iraq, 86 dead (on this page)

Youssifiyah is about 12 miles (20 kilometers) south of Baghdad and used to be one of the country's most violent regions, nicknamed the Triangle of Death. It's a Sunni-dominated area that is also home to many Shiite families. Sunni militants used to find easy hiding places among the region's date palm groves.

After the killings, the gunmen shouted they were fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq, a front group for al-Qaida in Iraq.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

No group has claimed responsibility for Monday's string of attacks that targeted half of the country's provinces.

But few other terror groups have the organizational skills to carry out such a sophisticated and wide-ranging series of attacks. The use of suicide bombers and the fact that many of the targets were Shiite civilians and Iraqi security forces also indicated that al-Qaida in Iraq was responsible.

The worst of Monday's violence was in Kut, a Shiite city southeast of Baghdad, where 35 people were killed when two explosions went off in an outdoor market.

Al-Qaida still alive in Iraq
A little over a year ago, U.S. and Iraqi officials said the deaths of al-Qaida in Iraq's two top leaders in a raid had dealt a severe blow to the organization. The group has suffered from a drop in funding and just last week was calling on former members to come back to the fold, a sign of the group's diminished status.

But time and again, al-Qaida in Iraq has shown an ability to resurrect itself.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki appointed his Culture Minister Saadoun al-Dulaimi as acting defense minister on Tuesday, said al-Maliki's spokesman, Ali al-Moussawi. Ever since the government was seated last December, al-Maliki has served as acting defense, interior and national security minister because the political factions could not agree on a candidate.

That has given rise to criticism that some of the most important ministries have been left direction-less. Al-Maliki's appointment of al-Dulaimi appeared designed to show that he was addressing the security shortcomings so apparent on Monday.

Al-Dulaimi served as defense minister under former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari. He will maintain his position in the culture ministry while also serving as acting defense minister.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: In Iraq, 86 dead

  1. Transcript of: In Iraq, 86 dead

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: A lot of news overseas tonight, including a wave of coordinated attacks across Iraq . At least 86 are dead in Iraq 's deadliest day of the year. At least 300 people were wounded.

Photos: Bomb blasts across Iraq

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  1. Residents inspect a damaged church after a bomb attack in central Kirkuk, on Monday, August 15, as scores of people were killed across the country in a spate of nationwide violence, just months ahead of a pullout of US forces. A parked car bomb and a motorcycle bomb killed one person and wounded 12 others in central Kirkuk. (Ako Rasheed / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Iraqi security forces inspect damages after two car bombs, one of which was detonated by a suicide attacker, detonated in the holy Shiite city of Najaf, on Monday. (Qassem Zein / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Residents gather at the site of bomb attacks in Kut, 93 miles southeast of Baghdad, on Monday. Two bombs tore through a public square in the southern Iraqi city of Kut, killing at least 37 people in the worst in a string of bombings and suicide attacks across the country, officials said. (Stringer/iraq / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Iraqi policemen transfer a wounded comrade to a local hospital after he was injured in a car bomb attack in Najaf, southern Iraq, on Monday. (Khider Abbas / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Iraqis inspect damages following a blast in the Mansur neighborhood of Baghdad on Monday. (Khalil Al-murshidi / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Iraqi security forces inspect the site of a suicide car bomber plowed his vehicle into a checkpoint outside a police building just outside the holy city of Najaf on Monday. (Alaa Al-marjani / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: Residents inspect a damaged church after a bomb attack in central Kirkuk
    Ako Rasheed / Reuters
    Above: Slideshow (6) Bomb blasts across Iraq
  2. Image:
    Maya Alleruzzo / AP
    Slideshow (16) Heading home
  3. Image: Bomb attack in Fallujah city
    EPA
    Slideshow (6) Wave of violence grips Iraq

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