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Iraq’s homophobic terror

Peter Tatchell reports on the plight of gay and lesbian Iraqis targeted for execution by Islamist death squads

December 1, 2007
4 min read

Ibaa and Haider are gay Iraqis. They never met before they sought asylum in Britain. But their similar stories are symptomatic of the violent persecution of lesbians and gays in occupied Iraq.

Both men used to lead happy, successful professional lives. Haider was a doctor and Ibaa worked as a translator. Since the US and UK invasion, their lives have been turned upside down.

The chaos and lawlessness of post-war Iraq has allowed Shia fundamentalist militias and death squads to flourish. They enforce a savage interpretation of sharia law, summarily executing people for ‘crimes’ like homosexuality, dancing, adultery, being the wrong kind of Muslim (Sunni, not Shia), listening to western pop music, wearing shorts or jeans, drinking alcohol, selling Hollywood movie videos, having a fashionable haircut and, in the case of women, walking in the street unveiled or unaccompanied by a male relative.

In this witch-hunting, homophobic atmosphere, Ibaa and Haider came to the attention of the death squads. Both men were in their late twenties and unmarried. This circumstantial evidence, plus local gossip, was enough to get them targeted as sodomites. Ibaa received written denunciations and a grenade hurled through his windows. Haider was ordered to leave the country or face execution. Killers came looking for him at his house and hospital. His partner was kidnapped, tortured and murdered.

Both Ibaa and Haider eventually escaped Iraq and claimed asylum in the UK. With the support of the gay human rights group, OutRage!, they recently won asylum. Most Iraqi asylum seekers – gay and straight – are not so lucky. Their claims are rejected. They face deportation back to Iraq.

Moreover, unlike Haider and Ibaa, the vast majority of gay Iraqis have no chance of fleeing their homeland and gaining refugee status abroad. They don’t have the funds and exiting the country via Syria and Jordan is now very difficult. Gay Iraqis are trapped in a society that is sliding fast towards theocracy.

The murder of gays is encouraged by Iraq’s leading Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al- Sistani. In 2005, he issued a fatwa ordering the execution of gay Iraqis. His followers in the Islamist militias are now systematically targeting lesbian and gay people.

Two militias are doing most of the killing. They are the armed wings of major parties in the Bush and Blair-backed Iraqi government. The Madhi Army is the militia of Muqtada al-Sadr, and the Badr Brigade is the militia of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq – the leading political force in Baghdad’s ruling coalition. Despite their differences, both militias want to establish an Iranian-style religious dictatorship.

Nyaz is a 28-year-old lesbian in Baghdad. Her nightmare is mild by comparison to what has happened to many gay Iraqis. Having seen so many gay friends murdered, Nyaz is terrified that she and her partner will also be killed. They have stopped seeing each other. It is too dangerous. To make matters worse, Nyaz is being forced by the Mahdi Army to marry an older, senior mullah with close ties to Muqtada al- Sadr. If she does not agree to the marriage, or tries to run away, both Nyaz and her family will be marked for ‘honour killing’ by Sadr’s men.

Nyaz is lucky. She is still alive. Many other gay Iraqis are not so fortunate. They have been killed by Islamist death squads. The fundamentalists boast that their ‘sexual cleansing’ operations have exterminated or forced into exile most lesbians and gays.

This homophobic terror is symptomatic of the terror experienced by millions of Iraqi citizens, gay and straight. Many left-wing Iraqis warn that the fundamentalists are gaining strength. If they eventually seize power, tens of thousands of people are likely to be slaughtered – similar to the bloodbath in Iran after the Shia Islamist revolution in 1979.

Iraqi LGBT is the clandestine Iraqi gay rights movement, supported by OutRage! More info: http://iraqilgbtuk.blogspot.com/

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