LONDON, England — Iraqi lesbians and gays continue to be subjected a systematic reign of terror by Shia death squads, Ali Hili, the coordinator of the human rights group Iraqi LGBT, said in London April 3. “The government of Iraq refuses to crack down on the killers or to take any action to protect its gay citizens. It is a regime that is dominated by Shia fanatics and homophobes,” he said.
Men suspected of being gay were gunned down in March 2006 in the Iraqi city of Ramadi. Both the United Nations IRIN news service and the BBC report a rising number of anti-gay killings in Iraq by Shia fundamentalist death squads.
“Supporters of the fundamentalist Sadr and Badr militias boast that they are cleansing Iraq of what they call ‘sexual perverts.’ They are open about terrorizing gay Iraqis to make them flee the country and murdering those who fail to leave. Their goal is a queer-free, pro-homophobic Iraq. They are dragging our country back to the dark ages,” said the London-based Hili, who is also Middle East spokesperson for the gay human rights group OutRage!
“Some members of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government are linked to the anti-gay death squads. They are the political representatives of the Muqtada al-Sadr movement and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). Both these parties have militias, respectively the Mahdi army and the Badr brigades, who are responsible for the execution-style killing of lesbian and gay Iraqis — and the murder of many other Iraqis, including Sunni Muslims, trade unionists, unveiled women, journalists and men wearing shorts, jeans or western-style haircuts.”
Murdered for wearing tennis shorts
On May 25, 2006, Wissam Auda, an Iraqi Olympic squad tennis player, his coach Hussein Ahmed Rashid, and his teammate Nasser Ali Hatem, were shot at close range and killed in the al-Saidiya district of Baghdad by fundamentalist militias. Their ‘crime' was wearing Western-style tennis shorts, and they were perceived as being gay.
“The murder of gay Iraqis has the support of highly influential religious leaders, such as Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani,” said Hili. “He issued a fatwa in late 2005, calling for the execution of gay people in the ‘most severe way possible.’ After international protests, he removed the fatwa from his website, but the fatwa itself has not been rescinded. It remains in force and is the spiritual sanction for the death squads to murder gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.”
The United Nations Assistance Mission to Iraq (UNAMI) has corroborated Iraqi LGBT’s claims of “sexual cleansing” by the death squads and Islamist courts:
“Armed Islamic groups and militias have been known to be particularly hostile towards homosexuals, frequently and openly engaging in violent campaigns against them,” January’s UNAMI report said.
“There have been a number of assassinations of homosexuals in Iraq. … At least five homosexual males were reported to have been kidnapped from the Shaab area in the first week of November (2006) by one of the main militias. The mutilated body of Amjad, one of the kidnapped, appeared in the same area after a few days. [We were] also alerted to the existence of religious courts, supervised by clerics, where homosexuals allegedly would be ‘tried,’ ‘sentenced’ to death and then executed,” UNAMI said.
This UNAMI report provoked a hostile reaction from the government of Iraq, which suggested that gay people are unIraqi and unIslamic: “There was information in the report that we cannot accept here in Iraq. The report, for example, spoke about the phenomenon of homosexuality and giving them their rights,” said Mr. Al-Dabbagh, a spokesperson for the Iraqi government. “Such statements are not suitable to the Iraqi society. This is rejected. They [the U.N.] should respect the values and traditions here in Iraq.”
Iraq’s many LGBT victims of the death squads
Anwar, a 34-year-old taxi driver, was a member of the Iraqi LGBT community and helped run one of the group’s safe houses in the city of Najaf. He disappeared in January 2007. He was arrested in his taxi after being stopped at a police and militia checkpoint. His body was found in March 2007. He had been subjected to an execution-style killing.
Nouri, aged 29 and a tailor, was kidnapped in the city of Karbala in February 2007. He had received many death threats by letter and phone in the past, accusing him of leading a gay life. He was found dead a few days later, with his body mutilated and his head severed.
Khalid, a 19-year-old gay college student who lived in al-Kadomya, was kidnapped in December 2006. Three months later, his family was handed his tortured and burned remains.
Hazim, a 21-year-old man, was taken by police officers from his house in Baghdad in February 2007. He was well-known to be gay. After threats because of his homosexuality, his family was forced to leave their home. Hazim’s body was subsequently found with several shots to the head.
Sayf, a gay 25-year-old, worked for the Iraqi police as a translator. He was kidnapped in the Al-Adhamya suburb by black-masked men in Ministry of Interior security force uniforms who drove a marked police car. Almost certainly they were members of the Badr militia, which has infiltrated the Interior Ministry and police. Sayf’s body was found several days later, with his head cut off.
Khaldon, a 45-year-old gay man, lived in al-Hurriya, a mainly Shia neighborhood of Baghdad. He worked as a chef. The Sadr militia, the Mahdi army, kidnapped him in November 2006. His decaying corpse was found in February 2007.
Hasan Sabeh, a 34-year-old transvestite, also known as Tamara, worked in the fashion industry designing women’s clothes. He lived in the al-Mansor district of Baghdad. Hasan was seized in the street by an Islamist death squad and hanged in public on the holy Shia religious day, January 11, 2007. His body was mutilated and cut to pieces. When his brother-in-law tried to defend him, he was also murdered.
Four gay friends had been receiving threatening letters at their Baghdad houses. All four were arrested December 26, 2006, by militia at a roadside checkpoint. They were interrogated about whether they were Sunnis. Their identity cards showed that three of the men were Shia. These three men were released after several hours of interrogation. The fourth man, Samer, a 26-year-old Sunni who lived in Zayona, was later found with gunshot wounds to his head, his eyes blindfolded and his hands tied behind his back. His body showed marks of torture and many burns. It is not clear whether Samer was executed because he was Sunni, gay or both.
Alan Thomas was a 23-year-old, Christian gay Iraqi who lived in al-Gadeer, a Shia majority district of Baghdad. He received many threats for being gay and was eventually kidnapped and executed by Shia death squads in late 2006.
“His older sister spoke to me over the phone from Baghdad; explaining how the murder of her only brother caused the death of their sick elderly mother,” said Hili. “She told me that ‘the new Iraqi evil regime does not provide effective protection to the population of Iraq. Shia militias act in collusion with security force gangs to take revenge on the Sunnis and other minorities.’”
Occasionally, some victims of the fundamentalists have been able to buy their survival. Hamid-A, a 44-year-old bisexual man from the Al-Talibya district, was kidnapped twice by the Sadr militia. The first instance was in April 2006 when he, his nephew and his brother were kidnapped and tortured. He was released in May 2006 after his tribe members paid a huge ransom to save his life and the lives of his relatives. Hamid was kidnapped for a second time in November 2006 by the same Sadr militia, when an informant reported that he was drinking alcohol and that he was suspected of being gay. He was held in a big office in Sadr city, along with other detainees — most of them Sunnis and Christians. Again, he was ransomed and is now in hiding. He is a rare survivor of the Sadr militia interrogation centers.
“Heterosexual friends of gays are also executed,” Hili added.
“This happened to Majid Sahi, a 28-year-old a civil engineer. He had been helping Iraqi LGBT members in Baghdad. Abducted by the Badr militia from his home, they objected to his association with gay Iraqis.”
Sahi’s family was advised by the Badr forces that their son’s “immoral behavior” was the reason for his kidnapping. His body was found in Baghdad, with bullet wounds in the back of his head, on February 23, 2007.
Hili is making an appeal for donations to to help the Iraqi queer community.
“Iraqi LGBT needs donations to help gay people in Iraq who are fleeing the death squads," Hilli explained. “We need money for safe houses, food, electricity, security protection and clothing — and to help pay the phone bills of members of the Iraqi LGBT group. They are sending us information about the homophobic killings, at great risk to their own lives.
“Many of the people we are helping had nothing but the clothes on their backs when they fled the attacks by fundamentalist militias.
“We are also paying for medication for members who are HIV positive. Otherwise, they will not get treatment. If it is discovered that they have HIV, they will surely be killed,” said Hili.
Want to help?
The U.K.-based gay rights group OutRage! is working with Iraqi LGBT to support its work. Make checks payable to OutRage with a cover note marked “For Iraqi LGBT” and send to OutRage, P.O. Box 17816, London SW14 8WT, England, UK.