BAGHDAD — Eight men carrying handguns and steel pipes raided a Christian nongovernmental organization here on Thursday night, grabbing computers, cellphones and documents, and threatening the people inside, according to members of the group.
“They came in and said, ‘You are criminals. This is not your country. Leave immediately,’ ” said Sharif Aso, a board member of the organization, the Ashurbanipal Cultural Association. “They said, ‘This is an Islamic state.’ ”
The intruders wore civilian clothes, said Mr. Aso and others at the organization, but their arrival was preceded by three police vehicles that blocked off the street. He said the men stole his ring and bashed him on the leg with a pistol.
Ashurbanipal, named for an Assyrian king, primarily publishes writings in the Assyrian language, but it also runs a private club that serves alcohol, which appeared to be the reason for Thursday’s raid. The intruders smashed liquor bottles and a glass refrigerator case before throwing a gas canister through the window of a car belonging to a member of the group.
The episode is the latest in a recent flurry of attacks on those who sell alcohol in Baghdad. On Wednesday, two shop owners said they were raided in similar fashion, also by men dressed as civilians working with the police. The crackdown has stirred fears among some here of an accelerated movement toward strict Islamic law, especially since the return to Iraq of Moktada al-Sadr, the fiery anti-American cleric, a week ago.
In November, Baghdad’s provincial government invoked a 1996 Saddam Hussein-era resolution to ban the sale of alcohol, using it to close bars and nightclubs even though the resolution has not been ratified by Parliament.
A police major said the men who raided the club were employees of the provincial government. But the leader of the provincial government said they were police officers in civilian clothes.
“We are a Muslim country, and everyone must respect that,” said Kamil al-Zaidi, the chairman of the Baghdad Provincial Council.
Because nearly all alcohol sellers in Iraq are Christians, the campaign against alcohol overlaps eerily with recent attacks on Christians, including an attack at a church in October that left nearly 60 people dead. Alcohol, some say, is just an excuse.
“If a Christian sells flowers, they kill him,” said Ameen Chamo, who said a raid on his store on Wednesday inflicted $70,000 in damages. “If he sells a goose, they kill him. It makes no difference.”
Others at Ashurbanipal disputed this, saying that they were raided because they sold alcohol. All said that after this raid, they were eager to leave the country.
Already, Mr. Aso said, most members of the organization have left Iraq out of fear for their safety. Thousands of Christian families have left or sought refuge in the semiautonomous Kurdistan region in the north since the deadly October siege on Our Lady of Salvation, a Syrian Catholic church in Baghdad. The Islamic State of Iraq, an extremist group affiliated with Al Qaeda in Iraq, claimed responsibility for the siege.
More than half of Iraq’s Christians have left since the American-led invasion in 2003, when there were believed to be 800,000 to 1.4 million Christians in the country.
“We will leave,” said Mr. Chamo, who said that his shop had stopped selling alcohol since Nov. 25, when he received a letter from the Baghdad Provincial Council ordering him to do so. “The Americans are not protecting us.”
He added, “We want the Americans to tell Maliki to stop this,” referring to the prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.
Badal Ilyas, a store owner who said his shop was raided and destroyed on Wednesday, was adamant about staying. “This is my country,” he said. “I was bringing democracy to Baghdad.”
But he said the raids had been a frightening reminder of the recent past, when Islamist militias terrorized anyone diverging from strict Islamic law.
“Before, the government fought the militias,” Mr. Ilyas said. “Now, they’re operating with the cooperation of the government.”
Khalid D. Ali contributed reporting.