The Mukhtar Army denies being behind the threats, which some Shiites believe are a ruse to tar their sect and inflame sectarian divisions.
‘‘We have nothing to do with the fliers,’’ said al-Rikabi, the group’s spokesman. He accused members of Saddam’s now-outlawed Baath party and al-Qaida of making the threats in an effort to ignite civil war.
Even though they are busy hunting down the group’s leader, Iraqi authorities have their doubts about the Shiite militia’s involvement in the leaflets too.
Two senior security officials said intelligence agents have obtained an al-Qaida hit list containing detailed names and residential information about people — both Sunnis and Shiites — living in mixed areas. They believe the group plans to target residents one by one, alternating by sect, in an effort to spread panic and suggest an atmosphere of retaliatory killings.
They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose information about security operations.
Threatening fliers from both Sunni and Shiite militias aimed at members of the opposite sect also have begun turning up in Baqouba, a former al-Qaida stronghold north of Baghdad that has a history of sectarian violence, according to Diyala provincial council member Sadiq al-Hussein.
For those living in areas where the threats turned up, their source matters less than what they portend.
Jafaar al-Fatlawi, a Shiite government employee who lives in the Jihad neighborhood, said he has started carrying a pistol with him just to answer the door and takes his family to spend the night with relatives elsewhere in the city.
‘‘Everybody in the neighborhood expects sectarian fighting to erupt any minute,’’ he said. ‘‘Our security forces weren’t able to stop the sectarian war before and now they'll fail again.’’
Associated Press writer Sameer N. Yacoub contributed reporting.
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