January 26, 2007
The following was written for Gay City News -- New York's largest gay weekly -- and appears in its current issue, published yesterday:
For the very first time, an official United Nations human rights report released last week has confirmed the "violent campaigns" against Iraqi gays and the "assassinations of homosexuals in Iraq."
"Attacks on homosexuals and intolerance of homosexual practices have long existed, yet they have escalated in the past year," says the latest bi-monthly Human Rights Report of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI), released on January 16. "Islamic groups and militias have been known to be particularly hostile towards homosexuals, frequently and openly engaging in violent campaigns against them. There have been a number of assassinations of homosexuals in Iraq," the report says.
Including a section entitled "Sexual Orientation" for the first time, the 30-page report goes on to say that the UNAMI Human Rights Office "was also alerted to the existence of religious courts, supervised by clerics, where alleged homosexuals would be 'tried,' 'sentenced' to death, and then executed."
"The trials, presided over by young, inexperienced clerics, are held... in ordinary halls. Gays and rapists face anything from 40 lashes to the death penalty," the UNAMI report says, citing a report by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, adding: "One of the self-appointed judges in Sadr City believes that homosexuality is on the wane in Iraq. 'Most [gays] have been killed and others have fled,' he said. Indeed, the number who have sought asylum in the U.K. has risen noticeably over the last few months... [This judge] insists the religious courts have 'a lot to be proud of. We now represent a society that asked us to protect it not only from thieves and terrorists but also from these [bad] deeds.'"
Among a number of assassinations detailed in the UNAMI report, it says that "at least five homosexual males were reported to have been kidnapped from Shaab area in the first week in December by one of the main militias. Their personal documents and information contained in computers were also confiscated. The mutilated body of Amjad, one of the kidnapped, appeared in the same area after a few days."
Gay City News first broke the story about the systematic murder of Iraqi gays last March (see this reporter's article, "Shia Death Squads Target Iraqi Gays-U.S. Indifferent," March 23-29, 2006). The Badr Corps-the military arm of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the country's most powerful Shiite political group-launched a campaign of "sexual cleansing," marshaling death squads to exterminate homosexuality, following a "death to gays" fatwa issued in October 2005 by the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani (left), the 77-year-old chief spiritual leader of all Iraqi Shia Muslims, to whom the SCIRI and the Badr Corps owe total allegiance.
Late last year, the Badr Corps-whose members up until then had been paid their salaries by Iran-was integrated into the Iraqi national police under the Ministry of the Interior, and its death squad members now have full police powers and wear police uniforms, which they don to carry out murders of gays.
Death squads of the Mahdi Army, the armed militia under the control of fundamentalist Shia cleric Moqtada al Sadr, have also carried out assassinations of gays.
The UNAMI report says that, "The current environment of impunity and lawlessness invites a heightened level of insecurity for homosexuals in Iraq."
One can get a vivid idea of that climate from a conversation this reporter, through a translator, recently had with Hussein, 32, a gay man living with his married brother's family in Baghdad.
"I've been living in a state of fear for the last year since Ayatollah Sistani issued that fatwa, in which he even encouraged families to kill their sons and brothers if they do not change their gay behavior," he said. "My brother, who has been under pressure and threats from Sistani's followers about me, has threatened to harm me himself, or even kill me, if I show any signs of gayness."
Hussein had already lost his job in a photo lab because the shop owner did not want people to think that he was supporting a gay man.
"Now I'm very self-conscious about my look and the way I dress-I try to play it safe," said Hussein, who is slightly effeminate. "Several times I was followed in the street and beaten just because I had a nice, cool haircut that looked feminine to them. Now I just shave my head."
Indeed, even the way one dresses is enough to get a gay Iraqi killed.
"Just the fact of looking neat and clean, let alone looking elegant and well groomed, is very dangerous for a gay person," Hussein said. "So now I don't wear nice clothes, so that no one would even suspect that I'm gay. I now only leave home if I want to get food."
One of Hussein's best friends, Haydar, was not long ago found shot in the back of the head at a deserted ranch outside the city. "Some say he was shot by a family member in an act of honor killing; some say he was shot by those so-called death squads," Hussein said. "Everyone says it's easy these days to get away with killing gays, since there is no law and order here."
All Hussein thinks about is getting out of Iraq.
"Things were bad under Saddam for gays," he said, "but not as bad as now. Then, no one feared for their lives. Now, you can be gotten rid of at any time."
The UNAMI report was hailed for its recognition of the plight of Iraqi gays by Ali Hili, a 32-year-old Iraqi gay man in exile in the United Kingdom who is coordinator of the London-based Iraqi LGBT group, which has a network of supporters and informants throughout Iraq who have helped document the sexual cleansing campaigns targeting homosexuals.
Speaking from London, Hili told me that the UNAMI report helps show how "the new Iraq is denying the right of every homosexual human being to exist and suppressing them ever since the invasion, and it gets worse every day."
The work of the Iraqi LGBT group was cited in the UNAMI report, which noted that "26 of their members have been killed since 2003. This includes the murders in 2006 of two minors, 11-year-old Ameer and 14-year-old Ahmed, because of their alleged sexual orientation even though both were reportedly forced into child prostitution. Another two young women were murdered in Najaf."
A request to the U.S. Department of Defense press office in the Pentagon for comment on the UNAMI report went unreturned. In the past, Hili and the Iraqi LGBT group have reported that when gays went to U.S. occupying authorities in Baghdad's Green Zone requesting protection, they were treated with contempt and derision.
To help support Iraqi gays, or for more information, go to Iraqi LGBT's Web site at http://iraqlgbtuk.com/.
RELATED READING: The current issue of GQ magazine has an excellent long article on Iraqi gays and a profile of Ali Hili by my old friend David France (right), a former senior editor at Newsweek. It has not been posted on GQ's website, but David tells me he'll post it this weekend on his own website. Or, pick up the magazine at the newsstands. And for more background, see some of my previous articles on gays in Iraq:
March 13, 2006: Shia Death Squads Target Iraqi Gays;
October 6, 2006: Hunting Gays in Iraq--How the Death Squads Work
December 6, 2006: Iraqi Gay Activists Abducted, Feared Dead