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/
Hilary Wainwright argues against reclaiming populism for the left and for a leadership that supports people’s capacity for self-government
It may seem as though these apps are working for us, but we are also working for the apps, writes Kurt Iveson
It's over 100 years ago that domestic workers began to organise to demand the same rights as other workers. Yet with LSE cleaners on strike this week, historian Laura Schwartz asks: how much has really changed?
Omar Barghouti asks whether Donald Trump, in his recent break with America’s long-standing support for the two-state solution, has unwittingly revived the debate about the plausibility, indeed the necessity, of a single, democratic state in historic Palestine?
Glenn Greenwald was interviewed by Amandla Thomas-Johnson over the phone from Brazil. Here is what he had to say on the War on Terror, Trump, and the 'special relationship'
In 1972 David Widgery wrote about the bitter intensity of love in capitalism
Andrew Dolan on how the left must match the anti-establishment rhetoric of the right, but with a different politics
Emma Snaith speaks with directors Emer Mary Morris and Nina Scott about the power of theatre to encourage community resistance to estate demolitions.
In the first of a series of interviews with migrants' rights and racial justice activists from the US, Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Peter Pedemonti, co-founder and director of the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia
Photos from The World Transformed festival in Liverpool, by David Walters
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
Secrets and spies of Scotland Yard
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
How progressive is the ‘progressive alliance’?
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
The YPJ: Fighting Isis on the frontline
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform
Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out
Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant