BAGHDAD, Iraq, July 15 - Luckily it was mostly beer - 6,000 cans of it - that was shot up Sunday. But the liquor distributor in Baghdad was hit with a full-scale assault: several cars and a minivan full of masked men with guns and grenades sprayed the building with hundreds of rounds. Fifty workers and customers huddled for safety on a second floor as it was raked with bullets.
"It was a miracle of God that we survived this," said one of the liquor distributor's managers. He would not give his name. "Do you want me to have my head cut off?" he asked.
The manager was afraid because this seemed more serious than just an attack on a liquor dealer, a fairly common crime with the rise of religion in Iraq since Saddam Hussein was removed from power last year.
The police said that the liquor store raid on Sunday was a well-planned attack by the Mahdi Army, the militia loyal to Moktada al-Sadr, the rebel Shiite Muslim cleric who, beaten for now in his fight against American occupation forces, appears to be looking for another role.
That role may be vigilantism.
Mr. Sadr's forces have been handing out leaflets in Sadr City, the poor Shiite slum named for two of his relatives, listing nine categories of crimes for which the penalty is death.
"It is allowed to kill: 1. hijackers 2. kidnappers 3. thieves who are trying to disrupt safe family life 4. collaborators, spies and terrorists from Al Qaeda, Wahhabis and Saddamists," the proclamation reads. It goes on to list prostitutes, pimps, pornography sellers, gamblers - and those who sell alcohol.
Iraq is awash in leaflets and threats, and it is impossible to know how seriously to take this proclamation, which was, the leaflet said, released "with the blessing of Sadr's office and its supporters all over the country." But the attack on the liquor distributor was carried out six days after Mr. Sadr's aides, tribal leaders loyal to him and other local officials all agreed on the document at a mosque in Sadr City.
On Wednesday night, four liquor stores in the Zeyuna section of Baghdad were bombed, and many residents blamed the Mahdi Army, although leaflets left behind were signed by an unknown group calling itself the Company of the Holy War.
With elections coming in January, Mr. Sadr may be searching for a way to remain a populist power broker. Last month, he declared a cease-fire after hundreds of his militiamen were killed in clashes with American forces in April and May.
Despite the losses, his resistance has made him a popular figure among poor Shiites hostile to the occupation, and his picture is far more common in Sadr City than even Mr. Hussein's own ubiquitous image was when he was in power.
For several months, Mr. Sadr's aides have said that he wanted to influence mainstream politics, to work for issues and candidates he supports. But that political influence is backed by the loyalty of the Mahdi Army, which is officially illegal.
What makes the declaration notable is that it seems to combine several elements of Mr. Sadr's power and political stance: it threatens physical force not only on behalf of issues popular among many devout Shiites, but also, in what may be a gesture to the new interim government, against some of the same enemies of the American and Iraqi forces: kidnappers, hard-core Hussein loyalists and members of Al Qaeda.
"That was the intention," said Sayeed Rahim al-Alaq, deputy head of the committee that drafted the list of offenses. "We are with the government. We are antiterrorists."
The proclamation was drafted with the consent of 28 tribal chiefs loyal to Mr. Sadr, so its edicts carry some of the trappings of traditional tribal law. Tribal leaders have been allowed to dispense justice apart from Iraq's legal system, especially in the past decade as Mr. Hussein tried to win them over.
Mr. Alaq contended that the proclamation was drafted in coordination with the interim Iraqi government, which took power two weeks ago. But Sabah Kadhim, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said that was not the case and that the new government could not allow Mr. Sadr to enforce his own set of laws.
"The government wants to stabilize law and order, and no one is above the law," Mr. Kadhim said. "It is not justified to kill without a trial."
But Malek Suwadi al-Mohamadawi, a tribal sheik who helped draft the proclamation, made clear that violators would be pursued and harsh punishments meted out. In the case of liquor sellers, he said, "If they admit they are doing something wrong and say they will give it up, this will be fine. But if they don't stop, they should face these punishments," which, he said, meant death.
There is no indication that the proclamation is being widely enforced. But the recent series of attacks on alcohol sellers worries several owners of liquor stores.
"The Mahdi Army is a terrorist army," said the manager of the store attacked on Sunday. "This is not about installing an Islamic Republic. It's about taking over."
Hikmat Hermes, 64, a Christian who has run a liquor store for 40 years, said his business had suffered since the fall of Mr. Hussein, under whose rule alcohol was legal and tolerated. Threats to other stores moved him to start selling items that are less profitable than liquor, and his shop is now stocked with cookies, nuts and cigarettes. In the past few months, his business has been drying up because foreigners, who make up much of his clientele, are afraid to come to his store, and he is afraid to deliver alcohol to them.
"It's going to be more dangerous for us if we start delivering," he said. "Because not only will we be selling alcohol, we will be considered collaborators." That category is mentioned in Mr. Sadr's document, which Mr. Hermes said "makes me more worried - and scared."
"If I get any kind of threat, I will close the shop," he said. "Because I will get killed."