Gay Iraq News & Reports 2007-08

Also see:Iraqi LGBT website/blog
Islam and Homosexuality

Also see:
New book 2007: Gay Travels in the Muslim World, Edited by Michael Luongo

(chapter 10 written by GlobalGayz owner Richard Ammon)
See book review: Gay City News

Also see:
More information about Islam & Homosexuality can be found at:
Other articles of interest can be found at:
Muslim Yahoo Group: "Queer Muslim Revolution" <>
Queer Muslim magazine: Huriyah, Barra
YouTube videos on gay Iraq

Gay Islam discussion groups:

1 U.N. Human Rights Report Confirms Iraqi Gay Killings 1/07

2 Troop ‘surge’ unlikely to help gay Iraqis Militias 2/07

2a Dying To Come Out: The War On Gays In Iraq 2/07

3 Gay Iraqis face continued persecution 2/07

4 Ovation for Gay Iraqi at London ‘Faith’ Conference 2/07

5 Iraq: New Murders of Gays 4/07

5a Iraq struggles to stop persecution of gays 4/07

6 US politicians raise plight of gay Iraqis 6/07

7 New Iraqi Gay Murders Confirmed 7/07

8 For gays in Iraq, a life of constant fear 8/07

9 Lack of funds may force group to return imperiled gays to the streets 10/07

10 Our Man In Baghdad 11/07

11 Gays Living in Shadows of New Iraq 12/07

12 Plight of Gays in Iraq to be Highlighted at IDAHO ’08 2/08

13 In Syria, Gay Iraqis Seek New Life 6/08

14 Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Do Kill 9/08

15 Gay leader assassinated in Baghdad 9/08

16 Sexual cleansing in IraqIslamist deaths squads are hunting down gays 9/08

17 Kurdish doctor jailed for writing about homosexual sex 12/08

18 Eid pardon for Kurdish journalist imprisoned for writing about gay sex 12/08


January 26, 2007 –

U.N. Human Rights Report Confirms Iraqi Gay Killings

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

January 20, 2007 – Houston Voice

Troop ‘surge’ unlikely to help gay Iraqis Militias continue to hunt gays in wake of 2005 fatwa

by Joshua Lynsen
President Bush’s plan to deploy an additional 21,500 troops to Iraq will do little to stop the death squads that continue to hunt gays, according to exiled gay Iraqis and organizations monitoring the violence there. Gay Iraqi citizens have been the victims of increased attacks and killings since the U.S. invasion began in 2003, insiders told the Blade. “Before the invasion, we never experienced any kind of trouble being gay in Iraq,” said Ali Hili, an exiled gay Iraqi living in London. “Saddam was a tyrant. But while he was in power, discrete homosexuality was usually tolerated. There was certainly no danger of gay people being assassinated by religious fanatics.” An unknown but reportedly substantial number of gay Iraqis have died since Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a top Shiite cleric, called on his followers in October 2005 to kill gays in “the worst, most severe way” possible.

Sistani, an influential figure in contemporary Iraq, later removed the command from his web site. But the order apparently stands, and attacks and killings of gay Iraqis continue to be reported. “For the foreseeable future, Iraq will remain very unsafe for lesbians and gays,” said Peter Tatchell, spokesperson for the British gay rights group OutRage. Monitoring organizations said the violence would continue until U.S. forces and Iraq’s fledgling government regain control of a country torn by civil war. Progress in securing the country has been slow, with the number of U.S. casualties now past 3,000. In December, the Iraq Study Group, a 10-member bipartisan group appointed by Congress to assess the war, announced its findings by saying, in short, a change in course is sorely needed. Scott Long, the gay rights program director at Human Rights Watch, said Iraqi officials cannot address the targeted violence until the country’s “general violence and social breakdown” is remedied.

“The violence targeting gays is one part of a breakdown of society and laws across the board,” he said. “There’s not going to be any end to those killings unless the violence as a whole can be controlled and the rule of law established.” Hossein Alizadeh, a gay Iranian living in the U.S. in political asylum and working for the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission, agreed.

February 2007 – GQ Magazine

Dying To Come Out: The War On Gays In Iraq
: Ali Hili is a gay Iraqi whose government forced him to spy on other homosexuals. Now, after a daring escape from his home country, Hili is doing everything he can to make up for the past

by David France (former Newsweek senior editor and the author of ‘Our Fathers’. His most recent book is ‘The Confession’, written with James E. McGreevey)

Ali Hili tears through the extravagant mass of CDs that line the walls of his messy home office and fill every horizontal surface with corkscrews of jewel boxes. He collects rare recordings of diva vocalists, from Aretha Franklin to Edith Piaf, but he’s looking for something by his favorite, Dalida, the Franco-Arab sensation known for her emotional lyrics and tragic life. Like other singers of a certain pathos, Dalida enjoyed a huge gay following throughout the Middle East and especially in Baghdad in the 1990s, when Hili worked as a DJ in gay-friendly clubs at the Palestine Hotel and the luxurious al-Rashid Hotel.

“Gay men are really, really into her in Iraq,” he says with great animation. “She’s very icon.”

He finds the disc he has in mind, but before he can play it, his cell phone rings, and he checks the caller ID and quickly snaps the phone to his ear. Hili, who is 34 years old and ruggedly handsome, doesn’t say much beyond a few greetings in Arabic. And then he kind of moans, and tears soon form in his eyes. “It is Hussain,” he finally whispers to me, “the Baghdad correspondent for our group.” (The names of some Iraqis have been changed to protect them or their families.) Hili’s group is a loose network of Iraqi exiles and their supporters called Iraqi LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender). From a crowded office in London, they work to protect gays still inside Iraq, where for more than a year, in the midst of the waves of chaotic violence, an especially brutal campaign has been waged specifically against homosexuals. Hili has received hundreds of reports of attacks and has evidence that over forty have been killed, most at the hands of men in Interior Ministry police uniforms.

Some of the dead are people he knows from the clubs. One of the first victims, a 40-year-old transsexual named Haider “Dina” Faiek, was one of Hili’s oldest friends. She was beaten by uniformed officers who doused her with gasoline. Witnesses said observers were cheering as she burned to death. “She was one of my first gay friends,” Hili tells me, shaking his head. “I really loved her.” Searching the Internet for more news about her slaying, Hili discovered information about a second and third victim, both men he knew from the clubs. Then he found the unifying thread: Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the single most powerful religious figure in Iraq today—a man the Bush administration plays up as a partner in peace and many have promoted for a Nobel Peace Prize—had posted a fatwa against gays on his Web site in October 2005. According to a translation, people “involved” in homosexuality “should be killed in the worst, most severe way possible.” It went unnoticed by most of the world. But Sistani is the spiritual leader of the Shia Muslim majority, especially followers of the main Islamic fundamentalist group called the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, whose armed militants in the Badr Organization have infiltrated the Interior Ministry police force. The Badr Organization is reportedly responsible for many of the antigay executions.

Hili crafted a press release about the fatwa and received some minor media attention. Quietly, last May, the death decree was altered slightly, though not completely withdrawn, and the killings have not stopped. Since speaking out, Hili has received several death threats, including an anonymous e-mail a few days before I arrived at his apartment that read: The street is always watching you Ali… So he takes what precautions he can. He seldom travels alone through London at night and has frequently changed SIM cards in his cell phone, making it difficult to trace him or his overseas contacts. And he uses a nom de guerre even among friends. He says he chose “Ali” in memory of his first love in high school, who was killed by a land mine in the aftermath of the Iraq-Iran war. “Hili” comes from a famous Iraqi pop singer from the ’70s named Sadi Hili, a Middle Eastern Engelbert Humperdinck whose deep, romantic voice and hypermasculine style has spawned countless jokes concerning his presumed homosexuality.

In September 2005, Hili formed his group to help generate political pressure to stop the killings. But given the chaos and fatal violence gripping all of Iraq, their efforts have seemed a bit frivolous to some. So, working over cell phones and the Internet, Hili and his comrades have been forced to set up a vast underground railroad with collaborators in many Iraqi cities and in countries throughout the Middle East and Europe. And they established sixteen safe houses within Iraq, where they shelter gays and transsexuals who can’t hide their sexual orientation and are in imminent danger. Some have been hiding this way since 2004, often in tightly curtained rooms, unable to leave. A network of supporters and “correspondents” deliver food to them and see to their medical needs, then pass status reports up through channels that ultimately reach Hili, who scribbles the updates into his records. At the end of his conversation with Hussain, Hili wipes his eyes and hands me the phone. “He speaks a little English,” he says. “He wants to talk to you.”

“If you want a story, I will tell you,” Hussain begins breathlessly, without introduction. He sounds very young, though he is 32, and his voice is full of fear and anger. “This is my best friend. They killed him. I want to tell you a true story.” Hussain explains that he is in charge of monitoring safe houses in the northern city of Sulaymaniyah, where several men have been hidden by a local family in exchange for rent money. One of them was a blond transgendered woman named Emad. Until the troubles began, Hussain and Emad had been roommates, but for the past few months Emad had been on the run, sure he was targeted for execution. When Hussain arrived there earlier in the day, he learned that Emad had been killed three days before. He weeps with rage as he describes the condition of the body, which showed signs that they killed him by running him over with a car. His corpse was left alongside the road, and passersby openly debated if he was a man or a woman. A friend—another gay man—went to study the corpse after hearing the chatter; he confirmed the identity to the victim’s family.

“I got very devastated,” Hussain tells me frantically. “They said informers in the community reported him. His family didn’t hold a funeral ceremony for him, because they didn’t want anyone to know that he was killed because he was gay.” After a series of shallow breaths, he adds, “I am worried. I’m sweating all the time, fearing that something might happen to me while I’m doing what I’m doing.” When he hangs up the phone, Hili puts the notes he made in a pile under a teacup, unsure if anybody will care about Emad’s passing. “We’re a community helping each other, with a little outside help,” he says. “Just like the Jews at the Nazi time.” …

(Note: there are 15 more pages to Hili’s story. For the full text, go to the original GQ story:

16 February 2007 – PinkNews

Gay Iraqis face continued persecution

by Alexis Hood
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has promised to crack down on the persecution of gay people in Iraq. The slaughter of gay Iraqis by Islamist death squads is yet another tragic consequence of the chaos and carnage in this beleaguered country. It would seem that no-one is safe from fundamentalist militias, who target Iraqis for "crimes against Islam," which might include drinking alcohol, having a Sunni name, or not being veiled if you are a woman. Sectarian blackmail, mutilation, and assassination of gays are rife. In 2005, Iraq’s leading Muslim cleric, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani issued a fatwa ordering the execution of gay Iraqis. The followers of rebel leader Muqtada al-Sadr, too, are proving they are all too eager to murder gays. Now pressure from gay and human rights groups has forced the FCO to tackle these attacks on gay Iraqis. As late as May last year, a letter drafted by FCO officials was reluctant to address this problem.

"We are of course aware of reports about the activities of so-called death squads in Iraq who are allegedly targeting people whose values are different from their own," the letter read. "This problem has mainly been centred on differences in religious belief and ethnicity, but we are aware of reports that it has now spread to include sexual orientation.

"It is difficult, however, to assess clearly the extent of this problem and how much it reflects criminality and local feuding as opposed to widespread or organised movement against any particular group or groups." April 2006 saw more wavering from the FCO over reports of persecution of gays. In a communication, an FCO official gave their opinion that: "The position of homosexuality in Iraqi law is not clear. There is no specific law that we know of against homosexuality but there are others that could be seen to see it as illegal." By August 2006, however, the targeting of gays in Iraq was a hot topic. The Observer ran an article: "Gays flee Iraq as Shia death squads find a new target."

People started writing to the FCO, who prepared the following statement in response: "We are aware of reports of increasing violence and intimidation against homosexual men in Iraq. This is in the context of a wider rise in violence against Iraqi civilians including violence against women, sectarian violence and violence against minorities. "We condemn all violence and intimidation and are working with the Iraqi government to tackle this, including by helping strengthen the capacity of the Iraqi Security Forces. More widely, we are working to promote respect for the rule of law and human rights by and for all Iraqis.

"We raise issues of concern, such as the reports of increasing levels of violence against minorities with the Iraqi government on a regular basis." But gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell warns that these murders are an ominous sign of things to come. Writing in the New Humanist, he accuses some Iraqi police and government ministers of colluding in the killings, and argues that: "the execution of lesbian and gay Iraqis by Islamist death squads and militia is symptomatic of the fate that will befall all Iraqis if the fundamentalists continue to gain influence. The summary killing of queers is the canary in the mine – a warning of the barbarism to come."

February 21, 2007 –

Ovation for Gay Iraqi at London ‘Faith’ Conference

The leader of the gay rights group Iraqi LGBT, Ali Hili, received a standing ovation from 250 delegates when he addressed the “Faith, Homophobia and Human Rights” conference in London on Saturday. Hili, a gay refugee from Iraq, is also Middle East Affairs spokesperson for the UK-based LGBT human rights group, OutRage! He told the conference that some ministers in the US and UK-backed Iraqi government were colluding with death squads responsible for the “sexual cleansing” of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) Iraqis

“Iraqi LGBTs are at daily risk of execution by the Shia death squads of the Badr and Sadr militias,” Hili told delegates at the conference. “Members of these militias have infiltrated the Iraqi police and are abusing their police authority to pursue a plan to eliminate all homosexuals in Iraq. “This is happening with the collusion of key ministers in the Iraqi government,” he pointed out. “The Badr and Sadr militias are the armed wings of the two main Shia parties that control the government of Iraq. “These governing parties – particularly the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq – are complicit in the widespread execution of Iraqi LGBTs. “What is happening today in Iraq is one of the most organized and systematic sexual cleansings in the history of the world,” Hili told the conference.

Referring to the abduction by death squads, and presumed murder, of five members of Iraqi LGBT in Baghdad last November, Hili continued: “For the previous few months these activists had been documenting the killing of lesbians and gays, and relaying details of homophobic executions to our office in London. “I have no doubt that they were targeted – not just because they were gay – but also to stop them exposing to the outside world the anti-gay pogrom that is happening in Iraq today,” he said. Condemning the refusal of the British and US governments to grant asylum to many refugees from the homophobic and sectarian violence in Iraq, Hili added: “The West, which caused much the current chaos in Iraq, should be giving refuge to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Iraqis. “Right now, the US and Britain are turning down asylum claims by Iraqi LGBTs,” he said.

The “Faith, Homophobia and Human Rights” conference had the support of 52 sponsors, including the Home Office, religious organizations (gay and straight), trade unions, LGBT groups, secular campaigners and ethnic minority agencies. “We deplore the internalized homophobia within religious institutions that fails to confront prejudice and hate,” delegates said in a statement ratified by delegates from over 50 organizations. “We encourage and support those faith organizations, which express their commitment to diversity and equality in practice and policy. We believe that full civil rights for LGBT individuals are not only consistent with the right to religious freedom, but are rooted in the best and fundamental teachings of all major faiths; love, justice, compassion, and mercy, such values being shared by all who seek the common good.”

Conference organizer Rev. Richard Kirker of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement said that members of the world’s six largest religions, as well as humanists, secularists, agnostics, and atheists, from a wide variety of political parties, trade unions, and community groups drawn from the whole of Britain, showed they wanted to work more closely together in the face of threats from religious fundamentalists. “The conference clearly believed it was more important to unite and bear witness to the importance of promoting human rights, than to dwell on differences which would pale into irrelevant insignificance if fundamentalism’s inherently intolerant agenda were to gain strength,” he said.

“The spirit and vision of the 250 people who attended showed how much cooperation is possible, and how much goodwill there is to challenge homophobia. The Commission on Equality and Human Rights (CEHR), in particular, has been sent a strong signal to address
these issues with the priority they clearly deserve.
We will be writing to a large number of faith and public bodies to draw their attention to the wishes of the conference and inviting them to act on key recommendations,” Rev. Kirker added.

April 10, 2007 – Direland

Iraq: New Murders of Gays

My apologies for not having blogged these last two weeks — I’ve been seriously under the weather. The following article was written for Gay City News, New York’s largest gay weekly, which will publish it tomorrow:

Iraqi LGBT – the London-based group with a network of members and supporters inside Iraq that documents anti-gay violence — last week released details on the latest series of murders of Iraqi gays by fanatical Islamist death squads. At the same time, the group says lack of money will force it to close two of the five safe houses it maintains in Iraq for gay Iraqis who have been threatened with death and forced to flee their homes. And the group’s coordinator has himself been targeted for death by an anti-gay fatwa.

“I received a death fatwa sent to my personal e-mail address last month,” Ali Hili, the 33-year-old gay Iraqi exile who is the full-time volunteer coordinator of Iraqi LGBT, told me by telephone from London. “It came from the official headquarters of Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Qum, Iran, and was stamped with his signature.”

The 78-year-old Ayatollah Sistani, the Iranian born-and educated cleric who is the spiritual leader of all Iraqi Shia Muslims, issued an infamous fatwa calling for death for all gays and all lesbians in “the most severe way possible” in October 2005, inspiring the deployment of anti-gay death squads by the Badr Corps, military arm of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the most powerful political Shia group in Iraq and now the cornerstone of the current Iraqi government. The Badr Corps was integrated into the Iraqi Interior Ministry last Fall, and its members now wear police uniforms and are able to operate with full police powers. 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, 2006).

Hili — who was the subject of an excellent, lengthy profile in the February issue of GQ magazine by openly gay journalist David France — said the fatwa targeting him called on him to “repent” his homosexuality or face killing, was dated February 5, and was received by Hili shortly after Hili’s own brother, who was not gay but who had been helping Iraqi LGBT and received death threats for his activism, was murdered in Baghdad. “I reported this death threat against me to the Metropolitan London Police, and am now under their protection,” said Hili, who is also the Middle East spokesman for the militant British gay rights group OutRage.

“Our ability to report on the assassinations of gays in Iraq by the death squads has increased in the last few months as word of our Iraqi LGBT group has spread among Iraqi gays, both by Internet and by word of mouth,” Hili explained. “That means we now have contacts, supporters, and members in a number of cities, for example in the south of Iraq, which we didn’t have a year ago,” he added.

Iraqi LGBT reported it had documented the following new murders, which Hili told me are “only the tip of the iceberg”:

— Anwar, a 34-year-old taxi driver, was a member of Iraqi LGBT and had helped run one of the group’s safe houses in Najaf. After he was stopped at a police checkpoint and arrested in January this year, he disappeared. His body was found in March, and he had been subjected to an execution-style killing;

— Nouri, a 29-year-old tailor in Karbala, had received many death threats by letter and phone accusing him of leading a gay life. He was kidnapped in February, and found dead a few days later, his body mutilated and his head severed;

— Hazim, a 21-year-old Baghdadi who was well-known to be gay, received death threats because of his homosexuality, and was seized in his home in February by police on an arrest warrant accusing him of leading “a scandalous life” because of his homosexuality. Hazim’s body was subsequently found with several gunshots to the head, and his family was forced to leave their home in fear;

— Khalid, a 19-year-old student who lived in the al-Kadomya district of Baghdad, was kidnapped in December 2006. Last month, his family received a phone call from police telling them to reclaim Khalid’s body from the Baghdad morgue — where they found the body had been tortured and burned;

— Sayf, a gay 25-year old, worked as a translator for the Iraqi police. He was kidnapped in February in Baghdad’s Al-Adhamya suburb by men in Ministry of Interior uniforms who were driving a vehicle bearing police markings, but who were wearing black head masks. Several days later, Sayf’s body was discovered, with his head cut off;

— Hasan Sabeh, a 34-year-old transvestite who was also known as Tamara, worked in the fashion industry designing women’s clothes. Hasan, who lived in the al-Mansor district of Baghdad, was seized in the street by an Islamist death squad and hanged in public on a holy Shia religious day on January 11, and his body was then mutilated and cut to pieces. When Hasan’s brother-in-law tried to defend him, he was also murdered;

— Rami, a 29-year old Basra shopkeeper, was the subject of rumors widely circulated in his neighborhood saying he was gay. He was kidnapped, and his dead body was found in January;

— Khaldoon, a 45-year-old gay man who worked as a chef, lived in the majority Shia Baghdad district of al-Hurriya. He was kidnapped in November 2006 by the Mahdi Army — the armed militia of extremist Shia cleric Hojatoleslam Moqtada al-Sadr (right), who is now in hiding and, according to an article in the April 10 Times of London, is believed to be in Iran), whose death squads also have been executing gays. Sadr’s political formation is also a key component of the curent government. In February of this year, Khaldon’s decaying corpse was found;

— Occasionally, some victims of the Islamist extremists have been able to buy their survival. Hamid A., a 44-year-old bisexual man from Baghdad’s al-Talibya district, was kidnapped twice by the Sadrist militia. The first time, in April 2006, he, his nephew and brother were all kidnapped and tortured. They were members of a very large extended Sunni family which paid a huge ransom to save their lives. Hamid was kidnapped a second time in November 2006 after an informant reported to police and the Sadrist militia that he was suspected of being gay and was drinking alcohol. He was held in a large office building in Sadr City — a poor Baghdad suburb that was named after Moqtada al-Sadr’s father, a prominent Grand Ayatollah, and is a Sadrist stronghold — along with other detainees, mostly Sunnis and Christians. Hamid was again ransomed, and is now in hiding, a rare survivor of the Sadrist militia’s interrogation centers;

— Heterosexual friends of gays are also executed. This happened to Majid Sahi, a 28-year-old civil engineer who was not gay but who had been helping Iraqi LGBT members in Baghdad. Majid was abducted from his home by Badr Corps members, and his family was told he was kidnapped because of his “immoral behavior” in helping Iraqi gays. His body was found with bullet wounds to the back of his head on February 23, 2007.

— Alan Thomas was a 23-year-old gay Iraqi Christian who lived in al-Gadeer, a majority Shia district of Baghdad. He received many threats for being gay and was eventually kidnapped and executed by Shia death squads in late 2006.

“These killings and kidnappings are hit-and run, and most of the information we have been able to confirm says they are carried out by people wearing police uniforms and riding in police cars — it’s become a pattern,” Hili told me.

Hili says he and a handful of volunteers — all gay Iraqis in exile — telephone Iraq at least three times a week to collect and confirm information about the murders of gays. “The phone is safer for our communications with Iraq than the Internet, which can be easily monitored, and also it’s hard to have Internet access for most Iraqis — it’s expensive, and phone connections to the Internet are often very poor,” Hili recounted.

A January Human Rights Report of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) confirmed the organized “assassinations of homosexuals” in Iraq (see this reporter’s article, “U.N. Confirms Iraqi Gay Killings,” January 25, 2007.) The report said UNAMI had been “alerted to the existence of religious courts, supervised by clerics, where alleged homosexuals would be ‘tried,’ ‘sentenced’ to death, and then executed."

The UNAMI report added that, "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…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.’"

Hili told me that “there are lots of these courts run by self-appointed clerics, both Sadrist and from SCIRI, operating in neighborhoods in Baghdad like Sadr City and al-Shola and even more in the south, in Najaf, Kerbala, and Basra. And one of the few points on which Sunnis and Shias are united is hatred of homosexuals. We’ve even tried to contact Christian churches in Iraq, but they, too, are so homophobic it’s unbelievable — I thought maybe they’d have a little charity, but they hate us too. I have Christian gay friends who have tried to seek help from their churches in Iraq and have been refused.”

Hili said the Iraqi LGBT group is suffering from a shortage of funds so severe that it will be forced to close two of the five safe houses it operates in Iraq for men who have been threatened with death for being gay and forced to flee their homes. “They are told to repent and change their ways or else be killed. We currently have two safe houses in Baghdad, one in Diwaniya — a large city an hour and a half south of Baghdad — and also one each further south in Nasiriiya, Basra, and Najaf. We’ve reluctantly decided we have to close two of the safe houses in the south by the end of this month, because we can’t pay the rent for May and June,” Hili sadly reported. “We are considering trying to move the guys in those southern safe houses to Baghdad, which means they’ll be far from their families.”

Iraqi LGBT does not yet have a bank account, Hili explained. “Operating an LGBT acount in Baghdad would be suicide — and all our group’s members in London are Iraqi refugees seeking asylum status, so their lack of proper legal status makes it difficult for them to open a bank account,” he said. That is why, if you want to help Iraqi gays, you are asked that checks be made payable to OutRage, with a cover note marked “For Iraqi LGBT,” and sent to OutRage, P.O. Box 17816, London SW14 8WT, England. OutRage then forwards the contributions to Hili and Iraqi LGBT for wire transfer to Baghdad.

April 16, 2007 – The Detroit News (article no longer available on-line)

Iraq struggles to stop persecution of gays

by Deb Price
Militias warn Iraqi families they will be murdered if they don’t hand over or kill their gay relatives. An Iraqi family pays ransom for the return of a gay man, only to learn later that his mutilated body has been found. An Iraqi father is released without being tried for hanging his gay son to defend the family’s "honor." Secretive religious "courts" try, sentence and execute gays. In Baghdad, a store owner and four barbers are kidnapped or vanish because of their sexual orientation. Each of these charges of gay Iraqis having their human rights horribly — often fatally — violated is in a U.S. State Department report issued last month or in assessments by the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq.

"Attacks on homosexuals and intolerance of homosexual practices have long existed yet they have escalated in the past year," the U.N. report noted in January. "The current environment of impunity and lawlessness invites a heightened level of insecurity for homosexuals in Iraq. Armed Islamic groups and militias have been known to be particularly hostile toward homosexuals, frequently and openly engaging in violent campaigns against them."

These accounts of anti-gay brutality echo news reports and charges made by Iraqi gays living in exile and international gay and lesbian human rights groups. Yet, the Iraqi government’s initial response to the U.N.’s report in January was to criticize it, rather than anti-gay violence, according to the Associated Press: "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," Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said. "Such statements are not suitable to the Iraqi society. This is rejected. They should respect the values and traditions here in Iraq." But at the White House morning press briefing on April 13, I asked the visiting al-Dabbagh, "Does the Iraqi government condemn the killings of Iraqis targeted specifically because they’re homosexual?" He replied, "Iraqi government condemn each and every killing — whoever are being killed. Definitely we condemn it. Due to any reasons."

That’s at least an encouraging response. Clearly, the Iraqi government is too weak to end the nonstop slaughter of all sorts of civilians. But denouncing anti-gay killings is an important step toward recognizing the human rights of Iraqis who are gay or transgender. Last May, in response to alarms sounded by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, the State Department’s acting director of the Office of Iraq Affairs told the group that his department was "very troubled" by reports of Iraqi gays being targeted. "We continue to work with Iraqi government, religious and civil society leaders to underscore the importance of human rights and basic freedoms and we believe that the Iraqi constitution lays a strong foundation for the protection of these rights," he said.

U.S. officials need to do more — publicly denounce any targeting of sexual minorities in the fledgling democracy. In Iraq, all of the violence against innocent civilians is horrifying. But if a stable, relatively peaceful Iraq is ever to emerge and join the ranks of civilized nations, it will have to be a place where government tries to safeguard the rights of all, including its most vulnerable citizens.

Reach Deb Price at (202) 662-8736 or dpr…

15th June 2007 – PinkNews

US politicians raise plight of gay Iraqis

by Seth Ewin
Two openly gay members of the US Congress have written to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urging the State Department to investigate reports of violent persecution of LGBT people in Iraq.
Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin and Congressman Barney Frank wrote in the letter that they were very concerned by reports that "Iraqi homosexuals have been systematically persecuted in Iraq under a violent campaign led by Islamic groups and militias."

The Iraqi people, they wrote, had adopted a constitution that guaranteed "life, security and liberty" for everyone yet this does not seem to have been the case for LGBT Iraqis who live in constant fear of execution. Baldwin and Frank asked Secretary Rice to raise the issue and express her concerns to Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki and President Jalal Talabani, while urging the Iraqi government to step up its protection of LGBT Iraqis and stop these senseless attacks by militias. The letter mentioned news reports that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the chief spiritual leader of Iraqi Shia Muslims, issued a fatwa, or religiously-inspired legal pronouncement, in October 2005, calling for death for all gays and lesbians in "the most severe way possible."
While the fatwa was eventually removed from Sistani’s website, it was never revoked, and the fatwa has led to the deployment of anti-gay death squads by the military arm of the Supreme Council for the Islamic revolution in Iraq.

As a result there was a surge in violence against LGBT Iraqis in 2006. A report by the Institute for War and Peace also documented that religious courts are now believed to exist in Iraq where homosexuals are sentenced to death and executed under the supervision of clerics. Iraqi LGBT, a London-based human rights group, said that twenty-six of its members have been killed in Iraq since 2003, including the murder of two minors, eleven-year-old Ameer and fourteen-year-old Ahmed, who were forced into child prostitution in 2006. In April of this year, Iraqi LGBT said that eight additional murders took place in 2007, while several other gay activists were arrested and tortured.

The letter urged Rice to use every available diplomatic tool to engage with the Iraqi Prime Minister and President and to call on the Iraqi government to crack down on the systematic persecution of LGBT Iraqis.

July 25, 2007 – Direland

New Iraqi Gay Murders Confirmed

The following article was written for Gay City News, New York’s largest lesbian and gay weekly:

A new wave of assassinations of Iraqi gays – part of the organized campaign of "sexual cleansing" of homosexuals that has been one of the saddest byproducts of the Anglo-American invasion and occupation of Iraq – has been confirmed by Iraqi LGBT, the all-volunteer, London-based group of gay Iraqi exiles that has been documenting the grim work of the Islamist anti-gay death squads in Iraq. Ali_hili_gq Ali Hili is the 33-year-old gay Iraqi exile who founded Iraqi LGBT three years ago in London with 30 other gay Iraqis, and is now the group’s coordinator. Iraqi LGBT has members, supporters, and informants throughout Iraq, with whose help the group has been able to document and confirm a bloody harvest of assassinations by fanatically anti-gay Islamist enforcers. Hili told me this week of the following new confirmed murders and arrests of gay Iraqis, all of which occurred at the beginning of this month. (Pseudonyms have been used for those still living to protect their safety.)

Mustafa, 26, was a well-known gay man in his neighborhood in the city of Najaf, south of Baghdad, who went out for a walk with a friend to shop for clothes. Mustafa was stopped and arrested by the local militia of the Badr Corps – the armed branch of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which is the largest Shia political formation in Iraq. The Badr Corps was integrated into the Ministry of the Interior’s police last year, and its anti-gay death squads since then have operated with full police powers. Mustafa was separated from his friend, taken to an isolated area, and shot and killed on the spot by the Badr militia, reported Haydar, an Iraqi LGBT member in Najaf.

Ali, a gay lad of 17, was also killed in Najaf in early July.
"One of our main sources in Najaf told us that his young friend Ali had been killed for his gay behavior and his sexuality, " Hili told this reporter, adding, "Ali’s mother told our source during a phone conversation that her son had disappeared, only to be later found shot to death in a nearby neighborhood." In the small Southern Iraqi town of al-Simawa – a stronghold of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi army, which has also deployed anti-gay death squads – two gay friends, aged 29 and 30, received death threats targeting their homosexuality. Within a few days, the two young men were assassinated. Ali, another young gay man from al-Simawa, had moved to Baghdad a few years ago after finding a better job there and living conditions more congenial with his sexuality. After a short visit to his hometown of al-Simawa, on his way back to Baghdad he was stopped at a police checkpoint, arrested, and accused of being a "terrorist." Ali managed to call the Iraqi LGBT representative in al-Simawa, who is well-known and well-connected in the little town.

"Through friends who have connections with the police, " Hili said, "our representative discovered they’d been told by the police officer in charge of handling the investigation of Ali that Ali was well-known as a gay man in al-Simawa, and that because of that the police officer wanted to accuse Ali on suspicion of terrorism and thus punish him for his homosexuality."

Ali is still in police custody.
Gay City News first broke the story about the systematic murders of Iraqi gays last March (see this reporter’s March 23, 2006 article, "Shia Death Squads Target Iraqi Gays.") and regular reports on the sexual cleansing campaign in Iraq have continued to appear in these pages.

Links to these stories are available online in the Web version of this article.

Ayatollah_sistani_best These latest murders bring to nearly 400 the total number of assassinations targeting gays which Iraqi LGBT has been able to confirm since it began to document the murderous campaign of sexual cleansing being waged by hard-line religious elements. This drive began with the death-to-gays fatwa issued in October, 2005 by the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the 79-year-old Iranian born-and-trained chief spiritual leader of all Iraqi Shia Muslims.

Sistani is recognized by SCIRI as its spiritual and political guide, and both Sistani and SCIRI have been aggressively courted by the U.S. occupier. SCIRI now holds the balance of power in the U.S.-approved Iraqi government. But, warned Hili, the nearly 400 murders confirmed by his group are "only the tip of the iceberg," as Iraqi LGBT’s resources are severely limited and many assassinations of LGBT Iraqis because of their sexual orientation go unreported as such, partly because the victims’ families are afraid of reprisals, and partly because the virulently homophobic police not only care little about the murders of gays but – infiltrated as they are by the SCIRI’s Badr militia – are frequently complicit or participants in those crimes.

Moreover, secure communications within the country are quite difficult – both because electricity is only available a few hours a day and frequently cut, rendering the Internet unusable, and because the anti-gay death squads and their operatives in police uniforms are constantly monitoring the communications of suspected LGBT Iraqis. Iraqi religious extremists have adopted the tactic of Internet entrapment of LGBT people used by Iran in its anti-gay crusade, as Hili illustrated with the latest in a long string of stories about such snares. In late May, two gay Baghdad University students – Ahmed, 23, and Zaid, 24 – arranged a date with two men through a gay Internet chatroom. Their "dates" were very good looking men with a brand new car. After chatting awhile, the two students agreed to accompany their "dates" to the al-Karada neighborhood of Baghdad.

It turned out that their "dates" were in reality members of Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi army who had been posing as gay in order to entrap them. The Mahdi army men locked the car doors, took out guns, and began furiously beating Ahmed and Zaid. The two gay lads were then kidnapped, taken to a deserted area, stripped, blindfolded, had their hands bound behind their backs with painful wire strips, and were then even more severely beaten and tortured at gunpoint. The Mahdi army men demanded to know the names and phone numbers of other gay men, and went through the details of everyone listed in the students’ mobile phones.

The two gay students fully expected to be killed – that is how such kidnappings of gays usually finish – but, miraculously, after having told them to kneel on the ground and say their prayers, the Mahdi army men drove away, and left the youths in the secluded area where they’d been tortured. They were eventually rescued by a passing motorist. Ahmed and Zaid were eventually aided by Dina H., a lesbian activist with Iraqi LGBT, who runs one of the safe-houses which Iraqi LGBT maintains for those who have been targeted by the Islamist anti-gay death squads and so have had to flee their homes.

After their horrific kidnapping, these two gay students have vowed to hide their sexuality to protect themselves.
"Normally, gay kidnap victims are always killed, " Hili said. "Ahmed and Zaid do not know why they were not shot. They are pleasant, kind young men – perhaps their kidnappers took pity on them. But they have now learned that being gay in Iraq is impossible – it is too dangerous." Dina, the Iraqi LGBT activist who helped the two students and collected their story, "is running a safe-house that hides eight gays and lesbians who have fled death threats and attempted honor killings by their families," Hili recounted. "She has helped many gay Iraqis over the last four years. We all think she is incredibly brave." Unfortunately, Iraqi LGBT was forced last month to close two of the five safe-houses it had maintained for gay and lesbian Iraqis fleeing death, because of lack of funds to support them and those who’d found refuge in them.

"We often feel let down by the gay community in the West, " Hili said sadly. "We need help to protect our friends and save lives. We need money for the safe-houses, food, electricity, security protections, clothing, and to help pay the phone bills of members of the Iraqi LGBT group so we can continue to report these murders and kidnappings." Hili added, "We are also paying for medication for our members in Iraq who are HIV-positive – otherwise, they will get no treatment. If it is discovered they have HIV, they will surely be killed." Hili begged, "In these hard times for gay Iraqis, the whole worldwide LGBT community should stand up for the rights of Iraqi LGBTs, and support these victims of sexual cleansing in Iraq."

Readers wishing to send a contribution to help Iraqi LGBT’s vital, life-saving work have two ways to do so. Direct credit card donations can be made via the secure PayPal link on the Iraqi LGBT Web site.

If contribution by check is preferred, the U.K.-based gay human rights group OutRage! is working with Iraqi LGBT to support its work. Iraqi LGBT does not yet have a London bank account, since as refugees seeking asylum its members lack the legal status to establish one, and operating an Iraqi LGBT bank account in Baghdad would be suicide. Iraqi LGBT asks that checks be made payable to "OutRage!" with a cover note marked "For Iraqi LGBT," and sent to OutRage!, PO Box 17816, London SW14 8WT, England, U.K. OutRage! then forwards the donations received to Hili and Iraqi LGBT for wire transfer to activists in Baghdad.

Summer 2007 – The Los Angeles Times

For gays in Iraq, a life of constant fear
– Since the U.S.-led invasion, homosexuals have been increasingly targeted by militias and police, human rights groups say.

by Molly Hennessy-Fiske,Times Staff Writer
Baghdad -Samir Shaba sits in a restaurant, nervously describing gay life in Iraq. He speaks in a low voice, occasionally glancing over his shoulder. The heavyset, clean-shaven Christian says that before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, he frequented the city’s gay blogs, online chat rooms and dance clubs, where he wore flashy tight clothes, his hair long and loose to his shoulders. After the invasion, he and other gays and lesbians were driven underground by sectarian violence and religious extremists. Shaba, 25, packed his flashy clothes away, started wearing baseball caps and baggy T-shirts and stopped visiting clubs and chat rooms. But he couldn’t bear to cut his hair.
"I cannot change everything immediately," he said, fingering his black ponytail. "I suffered because I didn’t cut it."

Recently, Shaba said, police commandos spotted his hair as he was riding in a taxi through a checkpoint in central Baghdad. Suspecting that he was gay, the four commandos dragged him out of the taxi by his hair, and forced him into an armored car. They demanded his cellphone, cash and sex. When he refused, they beat him with a baton and gang-raped him. He rubbed the back of his shirt, feeling for the scars. "They got what they wanted because I thought otherwise I would lose my life," Shaba said, and he began to weep. "They threatened me that if I told anyone, they would kill me."

Heightened attacks

Human rights groups say that Iraqi gays are increasingly targeted by militias and police. The United Nations and State Department have issued reports documenting some of the more recent killings. A U.N. report in January cited attacks on gays by militants, as well as the existence of "religious courts, supervised by clerics, where homosexuals allegedly would be ‘tried,’ ‘sentenced’ to death and then executed." Iraqi leaders dismiss those allegations, and Middle East experts say it’s difficult to tell whether the attacks are state-sanctioned.

"Nobody’s paying attention to this issue," said Ali Dabbagh, spokesman for Prime Minister Nouri Maliki. "It is not the custom of the people of Iraq. Not only Iraq, but the whole region."

In October 2005, Iraq’s leading Shiite Muslim cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, issued a fatwa, or religious decree, on his website forbidding homosexuality and declaring that gays and lesbians should be "punished, in fact, killed." "The people involved should be killed in the worst, most severe way," the decree said. The fatwa against gay men was removed from Sistani’s website last year, but it was not revoked, said Ali Hili, an Iraqi gay-rights activist living in London who petitioned Sistani’s office to remove it.

Hili compiles details of the killings of homosexuals, including photographs of victims, and posts them online. Included in his list of victims are:

• Anwar, 34, a taxi driver who ran a safe house for gays in the southern city of Najaf. Hili said Anwar was shot execution-style after he was stopped at a police checkpoint in March.

• Nouri, 29, a tailor in the southern city of Karbala who had received death threats for being gay and was beheaded in February, Hili said.

• Hazim, 21, of Baghdad also received threats, Hili said, and after police seized him at home in February, his body was found with several gunshots to the head.

Shaba said his cousin Alan, 26, who also was gay, was shot in the head one day when he went to answer the door while the two were having lunch. Although Alan might have been targeted because he was working as an interpreter with U.S. forces in the Green Zone, Shaba said he thought his cousin was killed because he was openly gay. "There are other translators in our neighborhood, and nobody killed them," he said.

Difficult to discern
Given the pervasiveness of sectarian violence in Iraq, it’s hard to tell whether such men are targeted for being gay, said filmmaker Parvez Sharma, a gay Muslim based in New York. Sharma just finished filming a documentary called "A Jihad for Love," set in Iraq and a dozen other Middle Eastern countries. It is to be released this fall. Sharma’s film concentrates on the prosecution of 52 gay men arrested in 2001 aboard a floating nightclub on the Nile; they became known as the "Cairo 52." No similar incident has been documented in Iraq, Sharma said. "It’s very difficult to tell whether there is a pogrom of any sort to kill gay men," he said, but the environment for gays in Iraq has clearly soured.

In the 1980s, Baghdad and Cairo were gay social centers, Sharma said. Many Iraqi gays settled into straight marriages and had families, but many continued to have homosexual relationships on the side. Although President Saddam Hussein shut down many of Baghdad’s gay bars in the 1990s and passed a law against sodomy in 2001, Iraqi gays and lesbians still socialized. After the 2003 invasion, a man who gave his name as Ahmed still cruised Rubaie Street, a once popular gay thoroughfare in the eastern Baghdad neighborhood of Zayuna, but he was not openly gay, he said.

A year and a half ago, one of the men he’d met there showed up at his apartment wearing an Iraqi army uniform. He threatened to tell fellow soldiers that Ahmed was gay unless he paid a bribe of 160,000 dinars, about $135. That was a probable death sentence, he said. Ahmed paid, fled the country for Amman, Jordan, and considers himself among the lucky ones. A 31-year-old gay pharmacist in the mostly Sunni west Baghdad neighborhood of Amiriya, said several of his friends were killed for being gay. He is often followed and stopped at checkpoints, he said. He spoke on condition of anonymity, for fear that he might be attacked. He dreams of getting a visa to Sweden, Germany or the Netherlands, which have accepted the bulk of Iraqi refugees, and then applying for asylum because of political persecution.

The United States has recognized asylum claims by gays and lesbians since 1994, but the applications of only about 14% of lesbians and 16% of gay men have been approved, according to the San Francisco-based Asylum Documentation Program of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. In Iraq, the wait for visas is long. Fake travel documents cost at least $15,000 on the black market, out of the pharmacist’s price range. "I’m just looking for salvation," he said. "Maybe next month you will call and my family will say, ‘Oh, he is killed.’ "

‘A cultural issue’
A U.N. spokesman said it was difficult to determine how many gays have been targeted and whether the Iraqi government is trying to help them. "They have said they are trying to improve human rights for all Iraqis, but they are not even willing to say there are gays in Iraq. This is a cultural issue," U.N. spokesman Said Arikat said. Wijdan Mikaeil, Iraq’s minister of human rights, said her office had not received reports of attacks on gays. She said that gays may be afraid to come forward but that the United Nations is over-emphasizing the problem. "The Iraqi people have been attacked all across Iraq — not because they are gay, but because of the sectarian issue," she said.

The State Department has urged Iraq to prevent attacks on gays, spokeswoman Janelle Hironimus said, but the insurgency and sectarian violence have made it difficult for the government to protect human rights. Gabor Rona, international legal director at New York-based Human Rights First, said the chaos shouldn’t stop the U.S. government from pressuring Iraqi authorities to hold security forces accountable for abusing gays. "We may not have any ability to do anything about suicide bombings and insurgent attacks, but we may have the ability to influence the Iraqi government if they have a hand in this," Rona said.

Some U.S. legislators are demanding that the State Department act. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), both openly gay lawmakers, sent a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in June demanding that she investigate attacks on Iraqi gays and pressure Maliki to respond. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) has sponsored legislation that would prioritize gay Iraqi refugees in an expanded Iraqi refugee program. Ahmed, now living in Amman, said U.S. forces in Iraq should investigate reports of assaults on gays and ensure that those responsible are punished.

"At least if they catch one of them, they may be afraid to do it again."

October 16, 2007 –

Lack of funds may force group to return imperiled gay Iraqis to the streets

by Julie Weisberg
According to Hili, 34, the cost of funding a safe house — which serves 10 to 12 people at a time — is about $1,800 a month: $800 for rent, usually paid three months in advance; $400 for the salaries of two armed guards for each house, an essential part of securing each facility; and $600 per month for gas, fuel for electricity generators, food, clean drinking water and hygienic supplies.
To put that in perspective: Halliburton’s US-Iraq contracts passed $10 billion in 2004 — with $10 billion Hili could operate 462,000 shelters for a year.

Currently, the majority of the group’s work is funded through private donations and small grants from other non-governmental organizations. Complicating the situation, Hili said, is that the need for Iraqi LGBT’s services and assistance has continued to increase while financial resources have dwindled. Unless more financing can be raised quickly, the group’s safe houses will have to close their doors, possibly as early as the end of this month, putting dozens of vulnerable people at risk of execution. Hili said although he is hopeful that some of his recent grant requests will come through in time, Iraqi LGBT’s financial implosion is imminent. “Until we get a stable source of funds, the group will always struggle,” Hili said.

2005 fatwa kindled anti-gay violence
Since the US invasion of Iraq, gays and transgendered people have suffered intense persecution. This targeted violence has been documented and acknowledged in recent State Department and United Nations reports. Violence against gays has intensified sharply since late 2005, when Iraq’s leading Shiite Muslim cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, issued a fatwa, or religious decree, which declared that gays and lesbians should be “killed in the worst, most severe way,” Hili said. Since then, LGBT people have been specifically targeted by the Madhi Army, the militia of fundamentalist Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, as well as other Shia militant death squads. The Badr Organization, the military arm of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and one of the leading political forces in Baghdad’s ruling coalition, has been particularly active.

Several months ago, two lesbians working with Iraqi LGBT were assassinated in the safe house they were running in Najaf, along with a young boy the women had rescued from the local sex industry. "These people have given their lives," Peter Tatchel of British gay rights group Outrage! said of Iraqi LGBT’s work during a phone interview last week. "And the group’s members inside Iraq have managed to save lives."

Hili said that in addition to the raid on Iraqi LGBTs headquarters last year, there are other credible reports of gay men being arrested and executed by the Iraqi police. Although British and Canadian news organizations have reported on the persecution of Iraqi gays, the issue has largely been ignored by mainstream US media. Veteran investigative journalist Doug Ireland was the first to break the story for an American publication, GayCityNews, last year. Ireland has continued to file reports on the increasingly precarious situation for Iraq’s gays.

"Every LGBT person is in danger"
The chaotic situation in Iraq makes it impossible to document precisely how many gay, transgender and lesbian individuals have been killed as a result of their sexuality or gender expression. But Hili said his group has specific knowledge of hundreds of cases of homophobic persecutions. Every LGBT person in Iraq is in danger, he said. “Some people need a permanent settlement, while others could be moved to outside Iraq,” Hili said. “We have to study each on a case by case situation.” Last month, Iraqi LGBT — working along with British gay human rights group Outrage! — helped two gay Iraqis secure asylum in the UK after the men narrowly escaped assassination attempts by Shia Islamist death squads.

Both men had their initial applications for asylum turned down last year by the British Home Office, despite providing authorities with strong evidence of homophobic persecution and death threats, according to Tatchell. But they appealed the Home Office’s decision and won. The Home Office often turns down asylum requests on the grounds that it does not recognize homophobic persecution as a legitimate and valid grounds for asylum under the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention, Tatchell stated. Iraq’s lesbian, gay and transgendered residents have become an all-too frequent target of that occupied nation’s lawlessness. Now they face the possibility of losing the lone organization that has sought to protect them from violence.

Friends of Iraqi LGBT, an all-volunteer human rights organization currently based in London, runs a series of safe houses in Iraq for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered Iraqis who have been targeted for persecution — including beatings, imprisonment and even death — by militant Shia death squads that roam the war-torn nation’s streets. Last year, five members of the group were taken into custody by Iraqi police during a raid on Iraqi LGBTs headquarters in Baghdad. So far, only one of the five has been accounted for.

Amjad, 27, was found dead and mutilated in the same area three days later.

Iraqi LGBT was formed early last year after reports of homophobic violence in Iraq spiked. The organization provides financial assistance to LGBT individuals in particularly dangerous areas of Iraq, allowing them to move to relatively safer parts of the country, or seek refuge in neighboring countries. In all, the group has assisted some 40 gay Iraqi asylum seekers in the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as Sweden, Germany, Canada, Holland, Lithuania, Romania, Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. But now Iraqi LGBT’s life-saving work is in jeopardy, as the organization is facing a critical shortage of funding. Ali Hili, the group’s founder and coordinator, spoke to Raw Story in a recent phone interview from London.

“The United States and European governments have hidden behind this, and used it as an excuse to refuse refugee status to individuals facing persecution in places like Iraq,” Tatchel said. “Lesbian and gay asylum seekers have a particularly hard time.” Many other groups in Iraq — particularly women — have also faced daily threats of violence and human rights abuses at the hands of the roaming militias since the beginning of the occupation, Tatchel added. “I fear it may take many more ghastly homophobic persecutions, and possibly a change in the government, before the current widespread refusal of asylum claims is reversed," Tatchel said.

Raw Story’s attempts to contact the British Home Office for comment on the men’s cases went unanswered. When asked if US officials had put pressure on the Iraqi government to crack down on the escalating violence against gay and transgendered people, a State Department spokesperson referred Raw Story to its 2006 report on human rights abuses in Iraq. “We warned that even before Saddam’s overthrow the repression of lesbian and gay Iraqis would gradually intensify. … What we failed to realize was the rapidity of the rise of Islamist extremism,” Tatchel said.

In addition to its work with the gay and transgendered communities, Iraqi LGBT has also provided anti-retroviral drugs to HIV+ men and women in desperate need of the medications. Since the occupation, HIV/AIDS patients have been killed simply because they have the disease, Hilli said. “They have been doomed … just killed because [the Islamist militas] see them as prostitutes, and immoral sexually,” Hili said. “So, HIV/AIDS patients can’t declare their situation to the authorities because they will get killed.”

Hili himself has faced frequent death threats, even in London where he is now living. “I am taking precautions because of what I am doing,” he said, adding that the London authorities have told him not to make public appearances and to keep a low profile, to protect his safety. I am doing everything on the Internet now,” he said. “But I have to do something to help… I do passionately love Iraq. I miss it every day. I wish I could go back every minute.” Hili added that his group’s work and success stories have given him “an energy to carry on, to go ahead and do what I am doing,” despite threats to his safety and the difficulty he has had keeping the organization afloat financially.

“I am trying everything to keep these safe houses going … and I’ll try more,” he said. “We have a dream that one day our country will be safe, stable and secure. … I can’t give up.”

Friends of Iraqi LGBT is collecting funds at their website,

November 21, 2007 –

Our Man In Baghdad

by Michael T. Luongo

He had the innocent look of a blond cherub, his hand twisted upright toward me as he lay asleep, his torso thrown over the scratch-graffiti surface of the wood table. His soft white palm was empty now, but I knew that only days before it had tightly grasped a rifle. The scattered voices of the other men who walked past us, the rumble of trucks and the roar of airplanes – none of it disturbed him, as if he were finally catching up on the sleep his time here had denied him.

As I went over my notes, I stared into his face, one that still bore traces of baby fat that I imagined still lingered after years of his mother’s Southern cooking – perhaps the stuff of his dreams as he gently snored away. Beyond him, taking refuge in the open-air tent’s shade were dozens of others, their heads burrowing into camouflage duffel bags, their bodies heavily wrapped in the same pattern uniforms, helmets and bullet-proof jackets haphazardly scattered to their sides.

The soldiers piled along the concrete floor under the canvas tent, or on the dirt outside in the shifting corners of its shadows, escaping the 140-degree heat as best they could. Further on lay a vista of the burnt dust of Iraq and more camel-colored tents of the occupation, the dirt and cloth blending into each other, each struggling to dominate the other and hard to distinguish the longer I stared out on the horizon.

I was at BIAP, the military-run side of Baghdad International Airport. Like the hundreds of tired soldiers sprawled around me, waiting for their plane home, permanently, or for a temporary respite, I was about to finally leave Iraq. My month in the country was over. The US government does not make it difficult for independent journalists to visit, offering a friendly show of what they feel is their good work. It’s just a lot of paperwork and process, and waiting, endless waiting in dusty environs like this one, sometimes for hours, sometimes for days. But it was finally the end of my trip – the incredible experience, the hard work, all of it was over.

I had come to look at many things in this country that has taken up so much blood and treasure and attention, and foremost among them was what was happening to gays in Iraq, in the northern, prosperous Kurdistan, and here in war-torn Baghdad. The logistics of the gathering of interviews, the escaping the possibility of death for myself, and hopefully for those with whom I met, all of that was over. I was from the beginning, both with military press officers and the US Embassy in Baghdad, usually open about my mission and my sexuality. And rarely was it a problem.

As happy as I was to finally be leaving, I felt an emptiness, a sense I had so much more to do, that I did not have the whole story. I had interviewed gay Iraqis, US Embassy employees gay and straight, members of the military, contractors, a slew of journalists based in Baghdad, and countless others, the majority off the record or with the promise of anonymity, and yet even so I was not sure I could parse the myriad details and make out a full, coherent picture. I was perhaps like President George W. Bush himself, preemptively announcing to myself and in my notes "Mission Accomplished," when in the back of my head, I didn’t feel I had it all together. There were many things that surprised me when I started researching the story of gays in Iraq. The first was that there were hundreds of men on the Iraqi pages of Gaydar. They are a mix of Iraqi locals, members of the US Army, contractors, even employees at Baghdad’s embassies. Many, even the Iraqis, had their faces showing.

At that point, virtually everything about Iraqi gays in the gay press was reported from outside the country – by Doug Ireland in this newspaper, later by David France in GQ, and in many translations by Ali Hili, the exiled leader of the group Iraqi LGBT, working from London. With gay, often underground contacts in Iraq, they offered a view of what is going on, not in any way a pretty picture. Some mainstream journalists based in Iraq, from the Los Angeles Times, for example, later followed suit.

But I wanted to see things directly for myself. Hili and I had numerous conversations before the trip, hashing out details of how to stage interviews without risking anyone’s life. One thing he made clear to me from the very beginning was that even if my own government occupied his country from the relative safety of the Green Zone, I would not have that luxury if I expected to meet gay Iraqis. Entering the Green Zone could mark any Iraqi as a collaborator, an instant target for death. I would have to travel to some of Baghdad’s more dangerous zones. Hili also told me also about a Baghdad, gay-friendly in its own way, which once existed.

"People don’t believe it when I say we had three nightclubs dedicated to homosexuals," he said, mentioning the Palestine and Sheraton Hotels, now more famous for housing journalists or being bombed. He mentioned "picnics on the banks of the Tigris, where men could gather by the water," conjuring in my mind the reedy edges of that eternal river where perhaps since the days of Gilgamesh, men had been meeting. Hili’s own story – he was forced to work as a spy for Saddam seducing gay diplomats before he managed to escape to England in exile – suggests as much intrigue as anything going on in Baghdad today.

As for a translator, I was on my own. "Try to get a Sunni," Hili warned, adding, "Sunnis are more liberal on these issues." Saddam was a Sunni, along with most members of the Baath Party that once controlled the government. The Shia and Sunni split occurred in Islam long ago, with Shias believing that the true religious leaders trace their roots through Muhammed’s daughter Fatima and his cousin Ali, who was married to Fatima. Sunnis, who represent the majority of Muslims worldwide, believe that a consensus method for selecting the caliph was established after Muhammed’s death and that leadership in the religion is traced that way.

Overall, Sunnis in Iraq are relatively secular, shunning the religious fervor of Shias, who are the majority in neighboring countries including Iran, an historic enemy of Iraq. By toppling the secular Sunni regime, the US created an opportunity for the long oppressed Shia majority to gain power and align itself with Iran. The leader of the Shias in Iraq, Muqtada al-Sadr, had lived in exile in Iran, and his Mahdi Army is associated with the ongoing violence in Baghdad and the infiltration of the Iraqi Army, estimated by some I met in Baghdad at 30 percent. This has been nothing but trouble for gays in Baghdad, along with so many other groups.

"Nobody cared about who we were," in the Baghdad he remembered, Hili said, adding, "We still have no written document that a law has been passed to punish homosexuals."

There has been, however, a strong religious insurgency since the US invasion. Musical diplomacy brought me to Iraq in the first place. My friend John Ferguson, who heads American Voices, an organization that takes US music to war zones and developing countries, held a concert in Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan in northern Iraq. Musicians and dancers came from all over Iraq to perform, creating a sense of unity rare for the nation at this moment. Ferguson, who is gay, and I know each other from our mutual work in Afghanistan in recent years. Erbil is a dusty city of endless construction projects, with monstrous new, American-style suburban malls and housing developments.

Compared to southern Iraq, stable, relatively peaceful Kurdistan appears liberal, but that is simply a distortion of the war. Tribal authority reigns strong, and honor killings of women in rural regions continue in spite of modern capitalist trappings. Still, the outright murders of gays do not seem to exist.

It was here that I met 27-year-old Arsad, who like other Iraqis in this article, is identified by a pseudonym in order to protect his safety. Hili arranged the interview for me. Arsad is slightly built, about 5-foot, 7, his constant smile, neat dress, and unfailing politeness my first impression. Our interview was in one of the new malls, sprouting from the dust in glitzy, glassy, tacky glory, where he works part-time. Arsad and I spoke for a few hours in the mall’s cafe. During the course of our conversation, he repeated several themes over and over again, and I would hear some of the same later from other men.

He remarked on how feminine he thought he appeared, that his hand movements and his way of speaking, with its high pitch, gave him away. He said that at times even his own family would comment that he acted "like a girl" – and that he also felt the sting of hatred on his job. These sorts of experiences of course are not unfamiliar to many Western gays, but Arsad also talked about far darker elements in the discrimination he has faced. Harassment caused him to drop out of several schools, and he moved from university to university across Kurdistan, because of "all the people in my life that threaten me."

Male rape is a real and constant fear for him; he once suffered it at the hands of an older man who had blackmailed him into sex, threatening to report him to authorities. Arsad sadly recounted another time when a taxi driver had tried to drive him to a remote area after asking him if he were gay. That time, he managed to escape. "I said stop the car, stop the car, and I ran away," he told me. "If I didn’t run away I am sure he was kidnapping, trapping me, taking me, and would rape me."

In a society where to be raped as a man would bring great shame to the family, there would be no way to report the crime to authorities. After the interview, Arsad helped me buy Iraqi music, including recordings by stars long rumored to be gay. Later, some of his co-workers approached, telling me he is a nice guy, contradicting what he had told me about his treatment by them. But I was a foreigner, a guest; I was meant to feel welcome as his friend. The encounter was as well an early reminder that in Iraq, one is always watched.

A few days after the interview, when Ferguson’s responsibilities for the concert were over, he and I spent time touring the city. We traveled with my translator and driver, Hewraz, hunky, handsome, and straight, but also sporting a moustache reminiscent of the ’70s San Francisco clone look – a style so common in the region that even Saddam seemed to favor it. As far as we knew, Hewraz didn’t know that I am gay, yet he never asked me if I had a wife and children, a question typically asked of me in my journalism travels.

Erbil was brutally hot during my July visit, but nightfall gave a sense of relief and brought the city, normally devoid of pedestrians, alive. Minaret Park, home to an enormous ancient tower that is all that remains of a once glorious mosque, was on our list. Ferguson and I knew that Erbil had nothing in the way of bars or other formal gathering places that we think of as part of a gay community in the West, but it became obvious that the park after dark was a cruising hotspot. Fountains line the park’s paths, including one with a Caesars Palace-style colonnade with rainbow-lit water works cascading down a terraced hill. Where the water collected into a pool at the bottom, lone men sat on park benches, their profiles silhouetted against the lights. Some of the men glanced up at us, smiling, nodding, clearly checking us out.

By the time we walked to the darkest, furthest edges of the park, where the ancient minaret stands sentinel, the furtive sense of men meeting men was even more apparent. Here, there were virtually none of the families with children wandering and playing we had seen elsewhere. But teenagers hung here as well, far away from their chaperoning families. Indeed our one conversation was not with a man but rather bold, 15-year-old girls, Kurdish, but raised in Germany. I couldn’t tell if they were flirting with me – which I would have regarded as daring – or simply looking to practice their English. But as we chatted, men walking by themselves continued to lurk, pacing around us slowly. A few days later, I visited Suleymania, the cultural capital of Kurdistan, a three-hour drive away. It is a more liberal city where women wear high heels, tight pants, and their hair uncovered. Liquor bottles glow in shop windows on the city’s streets. The city is famous for its art scene, and I met Sirwan, a gay artist who lives overseas, but was home visiting his family.

Sirwan’s family does not know that he is gay and he insisted, "I think it is better this way," than the more open nature he has encountered in the West. Over a dinner of lamb and stuffed grape leaves at his house, Sirwan surprised me by using the word "gay" in front of his mother as we chatted in English. "My mother doesn’t even know the word," he said. "It’s not even something she remotely thinks about."

Sirwan and I spent time with his friends in a park across from my hotel on Salim Street, the city’s main thoroughfare. The park is crisscrossed with walkways lined with low bushes and benches where men sat, older ones eating pistachio nuts, the rhythmic clack of the shells against the concrete at their feet. Young men lay on the grass together chatting in pairs and trios, drinking and smoking cigarettes. It was a male domain, the perfect location to socialize as gay men.

Here I met Saleem, Sirwan’s handsome friend from Baghdad; Sarkis, a Kurdish-American who wore army clothes and had bruises on his face he said came from an Improvised Explosive Device; and Dozan, a tall, thin Freddie Mercury look-alike visiting from Sweden, where he had moved 10 years ago. Dozan struck me as daring, often leaving to talk to men who sat alone. His interactions sometimes led to more than conversation. These contacts in time got him into trouble; about a month after visiting Suleymania, I learned that Dozan had been arrested and medically tortured by the Kurdish police. By phone, Dozan told me, "I met a man and we were kissing, and a little hugging also. And someone discovered that in the park and called the police." He explained that "they took us to the hospital and they tested us to see if they could find some sperm" in his anus using a medical probe in what was a painful procedure.

Dozan said they "brought us to the police station. We were transferred into another room and there was no fan and no light, but it was a big hole in the wall. They looked into that small hole in the wall and they threw also a lot of shit words to us." At one point, he recounted, "we were hit in the face by the policemen. And they kept shouting, ‘What did you do in the park?’" After a bribe was paid by his family, Dozan was able to get out of jail and then he quickly left for Sweden. He has no idea what happened to the man he was arrested with. In jail, they avoided each other, hoping to escape attention from the other prisoners. Suleymania might be liberal for Kurdistan, but clearly it is not that way for gays. Still, Kurdistan paled in comparison to reports of repression and outright murders of gay men in Baghdad, much of it originally brought to the attention of the West by journalist Doug Ireland.

My trip to Baghdad began on a military flight from Erbil, approved by my own government, which seemed not to worry about the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy in the case of a journalist whose paperwork included a credentials letter from a New York City gay newspaper. I chose not to be classified technically as an embed, but I applied to enter the Green Zone under the US military’s protection and stayed in its press compound. The documentation required is complex, including a statement explaining the purpose in visiting Baghdad. I laid it out frankly in the application, calling ahead also to speak with Major Armando Hernandez, one of the officials in charge of Baghdad’s Combined Press Information Center, or CPIC. He said there was little about my subject of interest that he could help me with, but also that it would not be a problem working on that or any other story idea. I was surprised by his easy acceptance. In fact I had the same experience with other Americans in Baghdad, including at the US Embassy, where quite a few gay men work. The British Embassy I was told is even more gay-friendly, with "Benny Hill"-style drag parties at the holidays, though I was not around for those.

My first day in Baghdad was spent in dusty BIAP, at times in an area that’s called the Stables, a series of wooden sheds with tables, couches, and a TV. As I awaited transport into the Green Zone, I watched a steady stream of CNN, FOX, NBC, and the military’s own programming, an incongruous mix of Lindsay Lohan reports and warnings to soldiers to avoid journalists. I was traveling with my friend Cynthia Barnes, a freelancer for Slate magazine, and as we watched Lohan, she said to me, "I thought we escaped news like this by coming here." Barnes is pretty, blonde, Southern, and flirtatious, and when she showed me a pink and black camouflage shirt she brought, I began calling her Embed Barbie. She nicknamed us the Gay and the Girl. Long after darkness had set, we boarded a Rhino, an armored black bus, and traveled in a convoy along Airport Road. The desert air was something like 120 degrees, but the military required us to wear full protection for the crossing. Groggy, confused, but obedient, I strapped myself together. The sweaty scorch of the body armor bit into my belly, the helmet weighed down my neck, but I eagerly peered out the Rhino’s tiny darkened windows.

As we entered the city, suburban homes with palm trees came into view, until our path was slowed by barriers. Behind enormous blast walls, I caught glimpses of destroyed but once grand buildings; we had begun the arduous process
of passing into the Green Zone. Eventually, we arrived at CPIC, and after a sweaty rest, we met Major Hernandez, a polite, low-key 34-year-old from East Los Angeles.
Journalist friends who had been to Iraq before me, in between asking repeatedly, "Are you crazy?", insisted that no freelancers had dared venture to Baghdad since 2005. This I soon recognized upon arriving there was patently untrue. As many as 20 journalists a day from the US, Europe, and even Iraq passed through the dorm room I stayed in at CPIC, creating a chaotic, noisy work environment. Most were embeds heading to other points of Baghdad and beyond; others, local Iraq media attending press conferences. After a deceptively peaceful first night, I would come back to strangers in my bed but not in any way I would normally dream about. Because Barnes is "girl," she had a private room.

The next day we visited the U.S. Embassy, the former Republican Palace, one of Saddam’s residences on the banks of the Tigris. I was meeting a contact, who himself is gay and knows a great deal about Baghdad’s security situation. Barnes and I toured the most impressive rooms in the palace, one with a dome painted with allegories of Iraqi history and doors ornamented with brass calligraphy. We went out to the Embassy’s pool, enclosed within its own blast walls. It resembled that of any resort, including an adjacent open-air dance floor which that night blared Arab techno music. We spread a map of Baghdad across a table and my contact explained the dangers of the Red Zone, including the neighborhood Karada, which I planned to visit. A brilliant moon, low on the horizon, lit the tops of the lush palm trees around us, but MedEvac helicopters buzzed just above them, continually reminding me where I was. "There was a car bomb here the other day," my contact said, pointing at a street near where I scheduled interviews.

He commented wryly that the Green Zone was not so safe either, saying, "We can’t do anything about things coming from the sky," referring to the rockets launched over the walls by insurgents. Death was a constant part of the conversation in Iraq. Another time at the Embassy, a press officer pointed at empty desks and told me tragic tales of the Iraqi employees who once sat at them. Attacks on gays were now and then part of the staff’s conversation. That same press officer knew of David France’s GQ article on gays in Iraq. When I met Philip T. Reeker, the Embassy’s counselor for public affairs and discussed the topic, he immediately mentioned that he had been both surprised and disgusted when he heard of the firing of gay translators of Arabic by the US Army because of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. "I’m from the Northeast and just don’t understand" why sexual orientation should be an issue, he said, explaining he would readily hire those same people to work for him.

Barnes and I sat talking to Reeker in his small office, perched uncomfortably on a couch with a thickly carved baroque wood frame, the kind you see in pictures of Saddam and his family. A strong historic preservation ethic has gripped the Embassy’s overseers, meaning that the palace’s original furniture – at least that which survived the early looting – cannot be removed. Still, furniture designed to be purely ornamental has grown dingy and threadbare from its constant use in the occupation. After meeting with Reeker, I spoke with another press officer, and again raised the issue of gay Iraqis being killed as part of the sectarian conflict. I was met with the response that it is "an Iraqi issue." The US occupation might have unleashed the violence, but if an Iraqi kills another Iraqi, it seems that a prevailing view is that the US has nothing to do with it. It would be a few days before I met 24-year-old Rahim, a gay friend of Ferguson’s who speaks excellent English. He would be my translator, and his own stories of growing up gay in Baghdad were enlightening. He and I met at the Al Rashid, the Green Zone’s only hotel, just around the corner from CPIC.

The Al Rashid conveys a sense of dated grandeur. The public corridors soar several stories high and are decorated like a modern mosque, pointed arched doorways emboldened with multi-colored glass panels through which the light softly flows in dreamy hues. These give way to a more austere lobby, its ceilings high, but the materials made from simple, smooth, polished woods and stones. The side of the lobby is glass, offering a view of the gardens, once meticulously maintained, but now needing a thorough watering and pruning. Rahim has long hair, stylish glasses, and a wispy manner accentuated by oversized hands. Though I would probably have never guessed he was gay, he told me that these are all signals in his culture that he is. We chose to talk in the Al Rashid’s back bar. The hotel has been taken over by religious Shias, and only soft drinks are now served. I had been warned its Shia ownership meant that it is also a base for spying, which soon became obvious. Rahim and I spoke in low tones, laying my recorder on the surface of the table between us. I avoided using the word gay, but Rahim said it from time to time, even as I looked around to see who could hear us.

Rahim’s long black hair seemed to disappear into the dark marble walls behind him, his face half hidden in creepy somber shadows, framed by blazes of light pouring in from the garden through the dust-coated plate glass windows. He told me of the problems in his neighborhood, the dangers in coming to the Green Zone, his need to take four different busses and a taxi, and how his long hair could at times be a danger, marking him as gay. "I refuse to cut it," he said, explaining he had died it dark instead to look more Arab. We moved close as we spoke, edging off our octagonal midnight blue, crushed velvet seats. They were from the 1980s, a time when Iraq was awash in oil money fueling a construction boom even as another war, the one with Iran, ravaged the lives of most of the population. One by one, men gathered at the dim bar just to our side, all staring but trying to do so unnoticed. Every so often I would look up at the couple behind Rahim, a man and a woman, both in business attire, and noticed they would pause when we came to delicate parts of our conversation. When it was clear we were being monitored, we paid our tab and moved into the main lobby. The well-dressed couple did the same.

Still, Rahim and I gabbed more freely in the bright lobby. At times, he made Iraqi gay jokes, talking about how modern Babylon is a place rumored to be full of gays. The name Hili connotes someone from Babylon, so it was appropriate from his perspective that Ali Hili would have chosen that name for his life as an exiled leader of Iraqi LGBT when he arrived in London. The lobby was a place of wonder for me. Sheiks in long ceremonial robes paraded near the reception counter, constantly pulling my eyes in that direction. Everything seemed fresh and wonderful to me, a sensation that made it possible to forget momentarily the war that raged beyond the hotel gardens over the concrete walls protecting us from the wilds of untamed Baghdad, as yet unknown to me. As we laughed, the man from the well-dressed couple came over, asking in perfect English, "Do you have a match?" I felt my heart drop, and afterward said to Rahim, "He wanted us to know he understood everything we said, didn’t he?" But Rahim brushed it off, arguing the man merely wanted to practice his English and rarely had the chance to do so with a native speaker.

We next moved into the heat of the gardens where we could finally be alone. I had read gardens were the only place people felt safe to talk under Saddam, difficult as they are to bug. As we walked, Rahim moved his hands as he could not in the hotel’s lobby. "If I was walking with you and I don’t know you, and I just recognize that you are talking and you move your hands like these moves, I will know and I will think and I will have some ideas about you and that you are a gay," he explained. I photographed Rahim as we walked, and it reminded me of the conversation I had in Erbil with Arsad. Rahim described for me an attempted entrapment he experienced by members of the Shia Mahdi Army who use gay websites to chat with, meet, and then kill gay men in Baghdad. I had read about such cases, but hearing the details first-hand was fascinating.

"Yesterday I was speaking with someone on Gaydar," he told me. The man told Rahim he had seen his picture and liked him, but would not send his own. "He opened his web cam for like three seconds and then he closed it," Rahim explained. "And he said, ‘It is enough, my family is with me behind me.’ But I don’t believe it, because he was naked, even for that three seconds."

Rahim said he knew it was a trap. In spite of the man begging him, "’Habibi, we can have sex, we can meet each other. You can trust me, I am a good person,’" Rahim told him no. Friends of his had experienced the same sort of come-on. From this time, I don’t trust anybody," he said. Rahim and I had spoken for several hours, and though it was not yet late, knowing it might take hours to get home, he decided to leave. Arriving in his neighborhood too close to nightfall could mean death, he explained nonchalantly. Afraid for his safety, I offered to walk with him to the very edge of the Red Zone, to see what he and thousands of Baghdadis experience daily, but he insisted that I stay by the Al Rashid. I waved goodbye, and Rahim turned and faded into a speck against the gray concrete barriers.

Getting into the Red Zone for the interview I had set up with one of Ali Hili’s contacts put me in mind of a James Bond movie. Well, sort of. I was met at CPIC by a security man, a handsome Brit with a gun and piercing blue eyes, though his car was a beat-up Toyota driven by an overweight Iraqi. The hotel where I had my interview was only about a mile away, but this being Baghdad, it was well more than an hour before we arrived there. The British security outfit operates as much under the radar as possible, and this meant crossing checkpoints not like an occupier – that is, easy passage with the flash of a badge – but as locals. Our first obstacle came almost immediately – a checkpoint where we waited with everyday Iraqis for body checks, car inspections, and weapons searches, as I beat back an impending sense that something terrible could happen at any moment. Right after we cleared that and our car began to move away from the checkpoint, it came under attack from mortar fire. My guards acted as if it were an everyday occurrence, which of course for Baghdad it is. I found the experience surprisingly exciting, my head moving with each ear-piercing boom, which my caretakers misinterpreted as fear.

When the attack finally ended, it took only moments to reach the 14th of July Bridge, traverse the Tigris, and arrive at the hotel I was using for the interviews. Here, I was deposited in the care of a British journalist working for a major London paper. Nearly every man who mentioned her commented on her being among the most beautiful women working in Baghdad, but what ran through my mind as we greeted each other was if not for the advice and assistance of professionals like her working in Baghdad, I would never have been able to accomplish anything. Having completed my difficult journey to the Red Zone, of course I hoped that my Iraqi contacts had arrived at our meeting place as well. But I had also come to recognize by this point that no one was in more danger than the Iraqis with whom I interacted. Rahim explained that insurgents are so ubiquitously on the lookout to kill collaborators that even to speak English on a cell phone in public in Baghdad could mark someone for instant death. Like the Al Rashid, this hotel, which for the safety of those staying there, will not be named in this article, is a faded remnant of a more glorious time. From the balcony of my room, I had a gorgeous view of the lushly palm tree-planted Dora neighborhood in the distance. It looked deceptively like a Middle Eastern dream; in fact, it had been a center of the US surge, where fighting was at its most dangerous.

Dora, in fact, was where my interviewee, a young man named Hassan who has a remarkably good command of English, would be coming from. I called him before the interview to confirm, and knowing I would need it for the guard at the hotel’s entrance, I asked Hassan for his full name. To my alarm, the phone suddenly went dead. I called back several times, but each time only got voicemail. The British journalist advising me told me, "Oh dear, that’s a bad sign," explaining Hassan could have been kidnapped if someone overheard him talking in English to me. She also suggested that an insurgent might come in his place if he knew where he was going. "Do you know what he looks like?" she asked. Of course, I did not. I desperately called Hili in London, explaining the problem and asking if he had a picture he could email me. Baghdad might be lacking in infrastructure, but most hotels are well-wired.

When the image finally came through, Rahim, who had arrived to translate, took one look at it and said, "He does not look normal. Anyone seeing him would know he was gay." For a man who appeared so obviously effeminate to try to travel from Dora was very risky, he said. Still, hotel staff, knowing I was waiting on someone who was late, but unaware why I was interviewing the young man, advised me not to worry, explaining that in Baghdad unaccountable delays happen all the time, a point Rahim too conceded. People can run hours, even days late, without the chance to communicate their delay. One of the dancers I met at the Erbil concert arrived at the hotel for a lunch and photo exchange we had planned, and he too advised me not to worry. He said that he used to fret about the absence of people he was supposed to meet, but that "after six months, it became normal. Whether he comes or not, you still have to eat." He and Rahim said they would run out to buy food for lunch; as a foreigner, simply stepping outside the safe confines of the hotel posed too much of a risk.

But I remained too nauseous with anxiety to eat, and as the hours mounted, and I left one unanswered frantic message after another, I worried that my appointment with Hassan had meant his death, whether by a random bomb or his confinement at a checkpoint. I waited another full day at the hotel, but he never showed up. One journalist tried to reassure me that my asking for his last name is what derailed the meeting. You can get Iraqis to tell you anything, she said, but never their full name. The idea that he was afraid, not dead, offered some cause for comfort. My final full day in Baghdad was Barnes’ birthday, and we spent that evening in neo-Colonial splendor, dining at the Embassy and swimming in the pool. But I also used the day to have some last-minute conversations with gay American officials I had been put in touch with, including one Ferguson as well as nearly every journalist there had suggested I speak with. I asked that official if he had become friends with gay Iraqis, and he said, "Yes, and they’re afraid for their lives."

In Baghdad, it’s difficult to determine if people are killed because they are wealthy, the wrong religion, in the wrong place at the wrong time, or gay. The variety of reasons boggles the mind. And it doesn’t make matters easier that some of the markers for being wealthy – stylish clothes and long hair, for example – are the same as those for being collaborators with the occupiers or for being gay. With any individual death, it can be difficult to sort it all out. Children have been known to be shot dead in front of their parents for wearing shorts. The American official I was urged to speak with, asked about the difficulties of discerning the truth behind the killings in Baghdad and which ones might be due to the victim being gay, said, "It’s part of Iraqi culture to be dramatic about things and exaggerate, but I don’t think with this that’s the case." The difficulties for gays in Iraq, he said, have worsened since the previous regime, but they were far from perfect then either. "Even under Saddam, it was bad," he said. "They didn’t have Internet, and they could not do large networking, but they had places, they had their small circles where they could socialize."

His words were nearly the same as what Ali Hili had told me when I began my work as the American official added, "I have even heard that there were clubs in hotels where they could meet. Some Iraqis say even though they could not be out, this was better than now." As the official and I spoke, Hassan, the man who never turned up for the interview in the Red Zone, finally called me on my cell phone. He was crying and desperate, apologizing profusely for not having shown. I told him I had reluctantly returned to the Green Zone and concluded that our meeting was simply too dangerous for him to risk. He begged for another chance to meet me, saying he would chance traveling to the Green Zone. As I listened to his pleas, I felt tears coming from my own eyes; the sorrow and despair in his voice were harrowing. "I don’t want you to get yourself killed," I told him as I dipped my foot in the embassy pool. "It’s too dangerous, we can talk on the phone another time."

Hassan was worried I was mad at him, disappointed he did not meet me before, and I assured him that I was only happy to hear he was alive. And in the end, he accepted that we could not meet not merely because of the danger, but more importantly because the time had passed and the logistics could no longer be arranged. The American official and I looked at each other as I hung up the phone. Reminding me that gay men are "sitting ducks" at checkpoints if they have to wait for long periods of time entering the Green Zone, he assured me I had made the right decision. The next morning, I called Rahim and let him know that Hassan was alive and wanted to risk his life to meet me in the Green Zone. Rahim suggested that Hassan probably thought that if he saw me in person, I could help him get out of the country, help him with an asylum bid in the US or elsewhere. Why else would he risk his life for an interview with a journalist, Rahim asked. I was reminded of a comment Rahim made as we walked in the Al Rashid gardens the day we first met. I pressed him to describe the differences between now and the time before the US invasion. At first, perhaps afraid he might offend me as an American, he hesitated to answer. Then, he said simply, clearly, and firmly, that for gays in Iraq, "It was better under Saddam."

Michael T. Luongo is the editor of the Haworth Press book "Gay Travels in the Muslim World," among much published travel journalism. He has reported previously for Gay City News from Afghanistan and other parts of the Middle East. More of his work on Iraq and other countries can be found at click.

December 18, 2007 – The New York Times

Gays Living in Shadows of New Iraq

by Cara Buckley
Baghdad — In a city and country where outsiders are viewed with deep suspicion and attracting attention can imperil one’s life, Mohammed could never blend in, even if he wanted to. Mohammed, 37, has been openly gay for much of his adult life. For him, this has meant growing his hair long and taking estrogen. In the past, he said, that held little danger. As is true throughout the Middle East, men have always been publicly affectionate here. But, at least until recently, Mohammed and many of his gay friends went one step further, slipping into lovers’ houses late at night. And, until the American invasion, they said, Iraqi society had quietly accepted them.
But being openly gay is not an option in the new Iraq, where the rise of religious extremism has left Mohammed and his gay friends feeling especially vilified.

In January, a United Nations report described the increased persecution, torture and extrajudicial killing of Iraqi lesbians and gay men. In 2005, Iraq’s most revered Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, issued a fatwa, or religious decree, calling for gay men and lesbians to be killed in the “worst, most severe way.” He lifted it a year later, but neither that nor the recent ebb in violence has made Mohammed or his friends feel safe. They yearn to leave Iraq, but do not have the money or visas. They agreed to be interviewed on the condition that their last names not be used. They described an underground existence, eked out behind drawn curtains in a dingy safe house in southwestern Baghdad. Five people share the apartment — four gay men and one woman, who says she is bisexual. They have moved six times in the last three years, just ahead, they say, of neighborhood raids by Shiite and Sunni death squads. Even seemingly benign neighborhood gossip can scare them enough to move.

“We seem suspicious because we look like a cell of terrorists,” said Mohammed, nervously fingering the lapel of his shirt. “But we can’t tell people what we really are. A cell, yes, but of gays.” His hand drifted to his newly shorn hair. He had lopped it off days earlier. There had been reports of extremists stopping long-haired men, shearing their hair and forcing them to eat it. It is impossible to say how many gay men and women face persecution in Iraq. According to an Iraqi gay rights group, run by a former disc jockey in Baghdad named Ali Hili who now lives in London, 400 people have been killed in Iraq since 2003 for being gay.

Set against the many thousands of civilians and soldiers killed in the war, the number is small. But for Mr. Hili, and Mohammed and his friends, it is a painful barometer of just how far Iraq has shifted from its secular past. For a brief, exhilarating time, from the mid-1980s until the early 1990s, they say, gay night life flourished in Iraq. Whereas neighboring Iran turned inward after its Islamic revolution in 1979, Baghdad allowed a measure of liberation after the end of the Iran-Iraq war. Abu Nawas Boulevard, which hugs the Tigris River opposite what is now the Green Zone, became a promenade known for cruising. Discos opened in the city’s best hotels, the Ishtar Sheraton, the Palestine and Saddam Hussein’s prized Al-Rasheed Hotel, becoming magnets for gay men. Young men with rouged cheeks and glossed lips paraded the streets of Mansour, an affluent neighborhood in Baghdad.

“There were so many guys, from Kuwait, from Saudi Arabia, guys in the street with makeup,” said Mr. Hili, who left Iraq in 2000. “Up until 1991, there was sexual freedom. It was a revolutionary time.” Then came the Persian Gulf war, and afterward Saddam Hussein put an end to nightclubs. Iraq staggered under the yoke of economic sanctions. While antigay laws were increasingly enforced, Mohammed and Mr. Hili said they still felt safe. Homosexuality seemed accepted, as long as it was practiced in private. And even when it was not tolerated, prison time could be evaded with a well-placed bribe.

The American invasion was expected to usher in better times. “We thought that with the presence of Americans, life would become paradise, that Iraq would be Westernized,” Mohammed said. “But unfortunately the way things were before was so much better than where we are now.” One night shortly after Saddam Hussein fell, American soldiers burst into the apartment that Mohammed shared with his two brothers. They were looking for insurgents, but took one look at Mohammed, with his long hair and shapely body wrapped in a robe, and teased him, he said. “What are you, a lady man?” he remembered them barking. “A boy? Or a girl?” They turned to one of Mohammed’s brothers, “Who is this?” they asked, “Your girlfriend?”

The news raced through Mohammed’s building. “All my neighbors came to know that I was gay,” he said. “My brother said, ‘Mohammed, leave the house; you can’t live here anymore.’” He rented another apartment, and was soon joined by some gay friends. They moved nine months later, after suspicious neighbors began to talk. Nine months after that, they moved again. They came to rely on remittances sent by Mr. Hili, who raises money for them in London. Mr. Hili taps a network of acquaintances in Baghdad to ferret out safe houses, and pays extra for landlords to alert him to possible trouble. He says he supports about 32 people.

Few work, though one of Mohammed’s roommates, Amjad, who is 33 and has manicured eyebrows and feathered hair, said he sometimes sleeps with an older man for money. “He loves me, but I hate him,” Amjad said. “He is jealous and ugly.” One of Mohammed’s friends, a 25-year-old law student named Rafi, said he was especially desperate to get out of Iraq. It is a sentiment shared by millions of Iraqis, but Rafi believes his future here is especially bleak. The influence from Iran is growing, he said. And in Iran, homosexuality is often punishable by death. “I want to get out, but not just out of Iraq, out of the Middle East,” Rafi said, “to a country that has respect for human rights. And for us.” He paused, casting his eyes downward. “It will never be possible here.”

February 27, 2008 –

Plight of Gays in Belarus, Iraq and Uganda to be Highlighted at IDAHO 2008 Launch

Government ministers will attend London College of Fashion launch
Minister for Skills David Lammy MP will be addressing the UK IDAHO launch.

London – Government ministers, mayoral candidates, students and academics, national and international LGBT campaigners, a lesbian singer/songwriter, who according to one reviewer performs like “Mary Poppins on acid” are all gearing up for the IDAHO-UK 2008 launch event at the London College of Fashion, which will take place, on the evening of March 13. Students on the Design for Graphic Communication course at the University of Arts, London have designed double sided broadsheet posters to encourage UK campaigners to arrange events for the International Day Against Homophobia on May 17, and the winning posters will be displayed at the event.

Derek Lennard, IDAHO-UK Coordinator, who has chosen the four winning posters, says that they are “very exciting and innovative”.

Appropriately enough, David Lammy, Minister for Skills, and MP for Tottenham, will be handing out the prizes to the students and making a speech at the event. He will be joined by Minister for Equality, Barbara Follett, and Linda Bellos, former leader of Lambeth Council, who works on mainstreaming equality and diversity in the British Army and Metropolitan Police. London Mayoral candidates are also well represented at the event. Neil Young will be reading a message of support for the IDAHO campaign and the event from Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London.

Richard Barnes the Conservative Leader on the London Assembly, Brian Paddick, Liberal Democrat candidate for Mayor, and Sian Berry, the Green candidate will also be speaking. Louis-Georges Tin, the founder of IDAHO will explain the priorities of the 2008 campaign, Pastor Kiyimba Brown will describe how he set up an IDAHO Chapter in Uganda, Ali Hilli founder of Iraqi LGBT will highlight the gravity of the situation for LGBT activists in Iraq, and Bill Schiller of the International Lesbian and Gay Cultural Network will graphically describe the plight of the LGBT community in Belarus.

Amnesty International will also be represented. Niranjan Kamatlkar, Artistic Director of Wise Thoughts will look at creative ways to address homophobia and transphobia in the UK, and a representative from the East London Out Project will talk on the theme of the IDAHO campaign this year “Lesbian Rights and Sexism”. Finally, Sue Sanders will display the work undertaken by students for Schools Out and LGBT History Month.

There will also be plenty of time for relaxing, mingling and networking in the luxurious setting of the Rootstein Hopkins Space, and a chance to see the student’s work, enjoy the canapés and wine, and undergo the Lorraine Bowen experience. It is hoped that Ms Bowen will perform a song from her new CD, “Vital Organs”.

“We hope this event will be inspiring, thought provoking and enjoyable and inspire campaigners to plan events for IDAHO,” said Mr. Lennard.

June 09, 2008 –

In Syria, Gay Iraqis Seek New Life

Damascus, Syria – Maybe one of the of most difficult situations that an Iraqi could be in is to be gay, the Iraqi society in general discriminate against the gay and transsexual people, normally they consider them as people who left their gender and changed for sexual want. Even though most gay people of Iraq have managed to live their lives, being born gay is almost the same as being born with an assurance of death. Most Iraqis don’t accept that homosexuality is something you’re born with, or which is assigned by your genes. Due to the Iraqi cultural and religious beliefs, homosexuality is forbidden and considered a mortal sin, and in many cases the penalty of death is assigned as the solution for it.

Some of the Iraqi homosexuals used to live in the Karrada neighborhood, practicing there life normally but still in secret. Although before the war as well they could not show that they are gay, due to the risk of being attacked verbally by the neighbors or the people they live with. No Iraqi organization or NGO was taking care of gay Iraqis before or after the war. Many of them were killed by the hands of militias after the war, some militias were considering killing gay people as a great thing you can do to satisfy God. Because of this many homosexuals and transsexuals tried to leave Iraq, and some managed to flee to countries with less violence against gays, or to Europe.

International organizations such as Amnesty International are working on helping the gay and lesbian Iraqi people, other Iraqis outside the country have created Iraqi organizations that are trying to help gay Iraqis like the Iraqi LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender), this organization used to have about 40 members in Iraq but after the attacks and raids on these groups in Najaf, Kerbala, and other areas by militias these organizations lost most of their contacts inside Iraq. The three Iraqis now living in Syria interviewed by Alive in Baghdad are just a few people affected by prejudice and hatred aimed at gay and transsexual Iraqis and those who dare offer them assistance.

September 2, 2008 – Posted by Daily Queer News

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Do Kill

by Lennox Samuels | Newsweek
When militiamen from the Mahdi Army came by the compact, two-story stone home in the Doura neighborhood of Baghdad, they weren’t looking for Sunnis to harass. They were hunting gays. “Bring us your son’s cell phone,” one ordered the middle-aged man who came to the gate. They wanted to check if his son, Nadir, had been calling foreigners–and in fact he had only hours earlier called this reporter to set up a meeting, and he had repeatedly called a gay nongovernmental organization (NGO) in London. Fortunately, Nadir was ready for them and produced a “clean” phone he keeps for just such a threat. This time they left, but vowed to come back if they found any evidence he was gay–or was talking to undesirable foreigners. Now that Iraq’s sectarian war has cooled off, it’s open season on homosexuals and others who infuriate religious hardliners.

Sometimes the act of reporting a story is revealing in itself–especially when it proves particularly difficult. This was the case when NEWSWEEK began looking into the problems of Iraq’s homosexuals after hearing reports of secret safe houses around Baghdad where many of them were taking refuge from the militias’ self-appointed morality police. After weeks of inquiries, NEWSWEEK managed to find Nadir and persuade him to arrange a visit to one of the safe houses he helps run. Instead, the Mahdi militia rousted him the night before. Established in 2004, the militia is the armed wing of the organization led by radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who has been an implacable foe of the Maliki government. Terrified, Nadir contacted people at the London-based gay NGO that finances the safe house, and they instructed him to break off the visit.

That was only one of many problems reporting on gays in Iraq. Iraqi authorities scoffed at the subject–when not scolding a reporter for even asking about it. Some of NEWSWEEK’s own local staff were wary of the story. Virtually no government officials would sit for an interview. And the United Nations human-rights office, which has a big presence in Iraq, dodged the subject like a mine field. As with a number of Muslim societies where homosexuality is officially nonexistent but widely practiced, the policy in Iraq during Saddam Hussein’s rule was “don’t ask, don’t tell.” But that has changed. Iraqi LGBT, the London NGO that Nadir works for, says more than 430 gay men have been murdered in Iraq since 2003. For the country’s beleaguered gays, it’s a friendless landscape.

Read more

September 26, 2008 – PinkNews

Gay leader assassinated in Baghdad

by Staff Writer,
A leading gay activist in Iraq has been assassinated. 27 year old Bashar was targeted by gunmen yesterday.
He was one of the organisers of safe houses for gay men in Baghdad and was co-ordinator of Iraqi LGBT in the city.

Peter Tatchell of LGBT human rights group OutRage! said: "On 25th September, I received the sad news from Iraq that the coordinator of Iraqi LGBT in Baghdad, Bashar, aged 27, a university student, was assassinated in a barber shop. Militias burst in and sprayed his body with bullets at point blank range. He was the organiser of the safe houses for gays and lesbians in Baghdad. His efforts saved the lives of dozens of people. Bashar was a kind, generous and extremely brave young man – a true hero who put his life on the line to save the lives of others. My thoughts go out to his loved ones and to the other members of Iraqi LGBT. Their courage is an inspiration to all people everywhere fighting against tyranny and injustice," said Mr Tatchell.

A UN report in 2007 highlighted attacks on gays by militants and religious courts, supervised by clerics, where homosexuals allegedly would be ‘tried,’ ‘sentenced’ to death and then executed. "Violence against gays has intensified sharply since late 2005, when Iraq’s leading Shiite Muslim cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, issued a fatwa, or religious decree, which declared that gays and lesbians should be ‘killed in the worst, most severe way possible," said Alli HIli of Iraqi LGBT.

"Since then, LGBT people have been specifically targeted by the Madhi Army, the militia of fundamentalist Shia cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, as well as by the Badr organisation and other Shia death squads. Badr is the military arm of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which is one of the leading political forces in Baghdad’s western-backed ruling coalition," said Mr Hili.

While homosexuality is in itself not illegal in Iraq, several laws are used to persecute gay people. Laws against loitering, indecent exposure, spreading "dangerous diseases," committing and indecent act in public and making "indecent" advances are all used. However, of much more pressing threat to gay Iraqis are the actions of militia groups.

September 26 2008 –

Sexual cleansing in IraqIslamist deaths squads are hunting down gay Iraqis and summarily executing them

by Peter Tatchell
Some of the links in this article will take you to sites containing images of violence which you may find disturbing

The "improved" security situation in Iraq is not benefiting all Iraqis, especially not those who are gay. Islamist death squads are engaged in a homophobic killing spree with the active encouragement of leading Muslim clerics, such as Moqtada al-Sadr, as Newsweek recently revealed. One of these clerics, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, issued a fatwa urging the killing of lesbians and gays in the "most severe way possible".

The short film, Queer Fear – Gay Life, Gay Death in Iraq, produced by David Grey for Village Film, documents the tragic fates of a several individual gay Iraqis. You can view it here. Watch and weep. It is a truly poignant and moving documentary about the terrorisation and murder of Iraqi lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Since this film was made, the killings have continued and, many say, got worse. For gay Iraqis there is little evidence of the transition to democracy. They don’t experience any newfound respect for human rights. Life for them is even worse than under the tyrant Saddam Hussein.

It is a death sentence in today’s "liberated" Iraq to love a person of the same sex, or for a woman to have sex outside of marriage, or for a Muslim to give up his or her faith or embrace another religion. The reality on the ground is that theocracy is taking hold of the country, including in Basra, which was abandoned by the British military. In place of foreign occupation, the city’s inhabitants now endure the terror of fundamentalist militias and death squads. Those who are deemed insufficiently devout and pure are liable to be assassinated.

The death squads of the Badr organisation and the Mahdi army are targeting gays and lesbians, according to UN reports, in a systematic campaign of sexual cleansing. They proudly boast of their success, claiming that they have already exterminated all "perverts and sodomites" in many of the major cities. You can view photos of a few of the LGBT victims of these summary executions here and here. My friends in Iraq have relayed to me the tragic story of five gay activists, who belonged to the underground gay rights movement, Iraqi LGBT.

Eye-witnesses confirm that they saw the men being led out of a house at gunpoint by officers in police uniform. Yes, Iraqi police! Nothing has been heard of the five victims since then. In all probability, they have been executed by the police – or by Islamist death squads who have infiltrated the Iraqi police and who are using their uniforms to carry out so-called honour killings of gay people, unchaste women and many others. The arrested and disappeared men were Amjad 27, Rafid 29, Hassan 24, Ayman 19 and Ali 21. As members of Iraq’s covert gay rights movement, for the previous few months they had been documenting the killing of lesbians and gays, relaying details of the murders to the outside world, and providing safe houses and support to other gay people fleeing the death squads.

Their abduction is just one of many outrages by anti-gay death squads. lslamist killers burst into the home of two lesbian women in the city of Najaf. They shot them dead, slashed their throats, and also murdered a young child who the women had rescued from the sex trade. The two women, both in their mid-30s, were members of Iraqi LGBT. They were providing a safe house for gay men on the run from death squads. By sheer luck, none of the men who were being given shelter in the house were at home when the assassins struck. They have since fled to Baghdad, and are hiding in an Iraqi LGBT safe house there.

Large parts of Iraq are now under the de facto control of the militias and their death squad units. They enforce a harsh interpretation of sharia law, summarily executing people for what they denounce as "crimes against Islam". These "crimes" include listening to western pop music, wearing shorts or jeans, drinking alcohol, selling videos, working in a barber’s shop, homosexuality, dancing, 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 Bush and Brown-backed Iraqi government. The Mahdi army is the militia of Moqtada al-Sadr, and the Badr organisation is the militia of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which is the leading political force in Baghdad’s governing coalition. Both militias want to establish an Iranian-style religious dictatorship. The allied occupation of Iraq is bad enough. But if the Mahdi or Badr militias gain in influence and strength, as seems likely in the long-term, it could result in a reign of religious terror many times worse.

Saddam Hussein was a bloody tyrant. I campaigned against his blood-stained misrule for nearly 30 years. But while Saddam was president, there was certainly no danger of gay people being assassinated in their homes and in the street by religious fanatics. Since his overthrow, the violent persecution of lesbians and gays is much worse. Even children suspected of being gay are abducted and later found shot in the head.

Lesbian and gay Iraqis cannot seek the protection of the police, since the police are heavily infiltrated by fundamentalists, especially the Badr militia. The death squads can kill with impunity. Pro-fundamentalist ministers in the Iraqi government are turning a blind eye to the killings, and helping to protect the killers. Some "liberation". Iraqi LGBT is appealing for funds to help the work of their members in Iraq. Since they don’t yet have a bank account, they request that 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.

See Iraqi LGBT for more information or to make a donation by PayPal.

December 3, 2008 – PinkNews

Kurdish doctor jailed for writing about homosexual sex

by Staff Writer,
A leading press freedom organisation has called for the release from prison of a doctor sentenced to six months by a Kurdish judge for writing an medical article about sodomy.
Adel Hussein was convicted of offending public decency with his article in newspaper Hawlati and sentenced on November 24th in the city of Arbil, the capital of Kurdish-controlled Iraq.

Reporters Without Borders said: "Sexual practices are part of the individual freedoms that a democratic state is supposed to promote and protect. Furthermore, Hussein did not defend homosexuality. He limited himself to describing a form of behaviour from a scientific viewpoint. We are astonished to learn that a press case has been tried under the criminal code. What was the point of adopting – and then liberalising – a press code in the Kurdistan region if people who contribute to the news media are still be tried under more repressive laws?"

RWB said Dr Hussein, a member of the Union of Kurdish Journalists and local TV presenter, was prosecuted as a result of a complaint brought by the city’s public prosecutor over a scientific article published in April 2007 that detailed the physical effects of sodomy. He was fined 125,000 dinars (£72) in addition to his jail term. The predominantly Kurdish region of northern Iraq, referred to as Kurdistan, is autonomous and has its own unicameral parliament. In the rest of Iraq the deteriorating situation for gay and lesbian people has been documented by human rights groups. A UN report in 2007 highlighted attacks on gays by militants and religious courts, supervised by clerics, where homosexuals allegedly would be ‘tried,’ ‘sentenced’ to death and then executed.

"Violence against gays has intensified sharply since late 2005, when Iraq’s leading Shiite Muslim cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, issued a fatwa, or religious decree, which declared that gays and lesbians should be ‘killed in the worst, most severe way possible," said Alli HIli of Iraqi LGBT. "Since then, LGBT people have been specifically targeted by the Madhi Army, the militia of fundamentalist Shia cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, as well as by the Badr organisation and other Shia death squads."

December 11, 2008 – PinkNews

Eid pardon for Kurdish journalist imprisoned for writing about gay sex

by Staff Writer,
A doctor sentenced to six months by a Kurdish judge for writing an medical article about sodomy has been pardoned and released. Adel Hussein was convicted under the 1969 penal code of offending "public customs" with his article in newspaper Hawlati and sentenced on November 24th in the city of Arbil, the capital of Kurdish-controlled Iraq. Massoud Barzani, President of the Autonomous Kurdish Government in Iraq, granted the pardon on Sunday, one day before the Muslim celebration of Eid, according to The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Dr Hussein’s was one of 121 pardons made in the region.

"We are relieved that President Barzani intervened to right this injustice," said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. "We call on the authorities to ensure that the new legislation is enforced and that Adel Hussein is the last journalist to be sent to prison in Iraqi Kurdistan because of his work."

A new press law that came into effect in October does not recognise violations of "public custom" as an offence. Dr Hussein said he was shocked to be tried for the article since he has written three books and hundreds of articles on sex and health previously with no legal action, reports CPJ. A member of the Union of Kurdish Journalists and local TV presenter, Dr Hussein was prosecuted as a result of a complaint brought by the city’s public prosecutor over a scientific article published in April 2007 that detailed the physical effects of sodomy.

He was fined 125,000 dinars (£72) in addition to his jail term. The predominantly Kurdish region of northern Iraq, referred to as Kurdistan, is autonomous and has its own unicameral parliament.