By Peter Tatchell, OUTRAGE!
Parts of Iraq, including some Baghdad neighbourhoods, are now under the de facto control of Taliban-style fundamentalist militias. They enforce a savage interpretation of Sharia law, summarily executing people for ‘crimes’ like listening to western pop music, wearing shorts or jeans, working in a barber’s shop, homosexuality, having a Sunni name, adultery and, in the case of women, not being veiled or walking in the street unaccompanied by a male relative.
Two militias are doing most of the killing. They are the armed wings of major parties in the Blair-backed Iraqi government. Madhi is the militia of Muqtada al-Sadr, and Badr is the militia of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which is the leading political force in Baghdad’s ruling coalition. Both militias want to establish an Iranian-style religious dictatorship.
Despite this goal of clerical fascism, the Socialist Workers Party and the Stop The War Coalition support Muqtada al-Sadr. They invited his representative to speak at the anti-war rally in London on 18 March. Not to be outdone, the July issue of the left-wing monthly Red Pepper gave over a whole page to white-washing al-Sadr’s crimes against humanity.
Under Saddam Hussein discrete homosexuality was usually tolerated. Since his overthrow, the violent persecution of gay people is commonplace. It is actively encouraged by Iraq’s leading cleric, the British and US-backed Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. He issued a fatwa ordering the execution of gay Iraqis. His followers in the Islamist militias are now systematically targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, as indicated by the following reports received from my clandestine gay activist contacts inside Iraq:
Wissam Auda was a member of Iraq’s Olympic tennis team. He had been receiving death threats from religious fanatics on account of his homosexuality. On 25 May, his vehicle was ambushed by fundamentalist militias in the al-Saidiya district of Baghdad. Wissam, together with his coach Hussein Ahmed Rashid and team mate Nasser Ali Hatem, were all summarily executed in the street. Their crime? Wearing shorts. An Iraqi National Guard checkpoint was about 100m from the site of the ambush, but the soldiers did nothing, according to eye-witnesses.
The father of 23-year old Baghdad arts student, Karzan, has been told by militias that his son has been sentenced to death for being gay. If his father refuses to hand over Karzan for execution, the militia has threatened to kill the family one by one. This has already happened to Bashar, 34, an actor. Because his parents refuse to reveal his hiding place, the Badr militia murdered two of his family members in retribution.
Nyaz is a 28-year old dentist who lives in Baghdad. She is terrified that her lesbian relationship will be discovered, and that both she and her partner will be killed. They have stopped seeing each other. It is too dangerous. To make matters worse, Nyaz is being forced by the fundamentalist Mahdi militia to marry an older, senior Mullah with close ties the Mahdi leader, Muqtada al-Sadr. If she does not agree to the marriage, or tries to run away, Nyaz and her family will be targeted for ‘honour killing’ by Sadr’s men.
Gay Iraqis cannot seek the protection of the police. Iraq’s security forces have been infiltrated by fundamentalists, especially the Badr militia. They have huge influence in the Interior Ministry and the police, and can kill at will and with impunity.
Fourteen year old Ahmed Khalil was accused of corrupting the community because he had sex with men. According to his Baghdad neighbour, in April four men in police uniforms arrived at Ahmed’s house in a four-wheel-drive police pick-up truck. They wore the distinctive face masks of the Badr militia. The neighbour saw the police drag Ahmed out of the house and shoot him at point-blank range, pumping two bullets into his head and several more bullets into the rest of his body.
In the chaos and lawlessness of post-war Iraq, hundreds of young boys are being blackmailed into the sex industry. The sex ring operators lure the boys into having gay sex, photograph them and then threaten to publish their photos unless they work as male prostitutes. If their gayness was publicly revealed, the boys would be executed by the Islamist militias. They are trapped.
Wathiq, aged 29, a gay architect, was kidnapped in Baghdad in March. Soon afterwards, the Badr militia sent his parents death threats, accusing them of allowing their son to lead a gay life and demanding a £11,000 ransom. The parents paid the money, thinking it would save Wathiq’s life. But he was found dead a few days later, with his body mutilated and his head cut off.
The UK gay rights group OutRage! is working to support our counterpart organisation in Baghdad, Iraqi LGBT. Despite the great danger involved, Iraqi LGBT has established a clandestine network of gay activists inside Iraq’s major cities, including Baghdad, Najaf, Karbala, Hilla and Basra. These courageous activists are helping gay people on the run from fundamentalist death squads; hiding them in safe houses in Baghdad, and helping them escape to Syria and Lebanon. The world ignores the fate of LGBT Iraqis at its peril. Their fate today is the fate of all Iraqis tomorrow.
• Iraqi LGBT is appealing for funds to help the work of their members in Iraq. They don’t yet have a bank account. The UK gay rights group OutRage! is helping them. Cheques should be made payable to “OutRage!”, with a cover note marked “For Iraqi LGBT”, and sent to OutRage!, PO Box 17816, London SW14 8WT.
More info on Iraqi LGBT:
• Originally published in Tribune 1 September