April 13, 2007
Volume 35
Issue 15
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Wednesday, May 27, 2020



Iraq: Homophobic danger at every turn
Iraq: Homophobic danger at every turn
Islamist death squads are systematically targeting Gay people for execution in Iraq

by Peter Tatchell - Special to the SGN

Hasan Sabeh was a happy, talented 34 year old Gay Transvestite fashion designer, also affectionately known as Tamara. He lived in the al-Mansor district of Baghdad. Two months ago, Hasan was tending his fashion accessories stall in a street market. Out-of-the-blue, an Islamist death squad, wearing Iraqi police uniforms, seized him. They stripped off his clothes in the street and shot him dead. Hasan's brother-in-law was nearby and rushed to cradle his body. He, too, was shot dead at point blank range. The killers then took Hasan's body, and hanged and mutilated it, as a warning to other Gay and Transgender Iraqis.

Gay people like Hasan are now being systematically targeted for execution by Shia death squads. The killers are hell-bent on turning the country into a fundamentalist Islamic state, cleansed of all "impure, unIslamic elements." Some operate within the police and others independently. All owe their allegiance to firebrand, militant clerics.

Large parts of Iraq, including many Baghdad neighborhoods, are now under the de facto control of fundamentalist militias and their elite death squad units - the Islamist equivalent of the Nazi SS.

Gays are not the only victims. The militias enforce a savage interpretation of Sharia law, summarily executing people for what they denounce as "crimes against Islam." These "crimes" include listening to western pop music, having a fashionable haircut, 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 Blair-backed Iraqi government. Madhi is the militia of Muqtada al-Sadr, and Badr is the militia of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which is the leading political force in Baghdad's government coalition. Both militias want to establish an Iranian-style religious dictatorship - or worse.

Some of the anti-war left in Britain and the US support Muqtada al-Sadr, despite his goal of clerical fascism and his militia's involvement in death squad killings. They hail him as a "national resistance hero" (sic) for fighting the US and UK occupation of Iraq; callously ignoring his militia's sectarian murder of innocent Sunni Muslims, women, Gay people and others. The allied occupation of Iraq is bad enough. But victory for the Madhi or Badr militias would result in a reign of religious terror many times worse.

The execution of Lesbian and Gay Iraqis by Islamist death squads and militias is symptomatic of the fate that will befall all "immoral" and "unIslamic" Iraqis if the fundamentalists continue to gain influence. The killing of Queers is the canary in the mine - a warning of the further barbarism to come.

Saddam Hussein was a bloody tyrant. I know. For nearly 30 years, I campaigned in support of democratic and left-wing Iraqis who were struggling to overthrow his regime. Where were Bush and Blair in the 1980s? Not protesting against Saddam.

While Saddam was in power, discrete homosexuality was usually tolerated. There was certainly no danger of Gay people being assassinated in the street by religious fanatics. Since his overthrow, the violent persecution of Lesbians and Gays is commonplace. It is actively encouraged by Iraq's leading Muslim cleric, the British and US-backed Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. In late 2005, he issued a fatwa ordering the execution of Gay Iraqis. His followers in the Islamist militias are now systematically assassinating Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people.

Lesbian and Gay Iraqis cannot seek the protection of the police. Iraq's security forces have been infiltrated by fundamentalists, especially the Badr militia. They have huge influence in the Interior Ministry and the police, and can kill with impunity. Pro-fundamentalist government ministers are turning a blind eye to the killings, and helping to protect the killers.

Typical of the reign of terror is the fate of Wathiq, aged 29. A Gay architect, he was kidnapped in Baghdad. Soon afterwards, the Badr militia sent his parents death threats, accusing them of permitting their son to be Gay and demanding a £11,000 ransom. The parents paid the money, thinking it would save Wathiq's life. But he was found dead a few days later, with his body mutilated and his head cut off.

Nyaz is a 28-year old dentist who lives in Baghdad. She is terrified that her Lesbian relationship will be discovered, and that both she and her partner will be killed. They have stopped seeing each other. It is too dangerous. To make matters worse, Nyaz is being forced by the fundamentalist Mahdi militia to marry an older, senior Mullah with close ties the Mahdi leader, Muqtada al-Sadr. If she does not agree to the marriage, or tries to run away, Nyaz and her family will be targeted for 'honor killing' by Sadr's men.

The UK-based Gay rights group OutRage! is working to support our counterpart organization in Baghdad, Iraqi LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender). Despite the great danger involved, Iraqi LGBT has established a clandestine network of Gay activists inside Iraq's major cities, including Baghdad, Najaf, Karbala, Hilla and Basra. These courageous activists are helping Gay people on the run from fundamentalist death squads; hiding them in safe houses in Baghdad, and helping them escape to Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. The world ignores the fate of LGBT Iraqis at its peril. Their fate today is the fate of all Iraqis tomorrow.

Iraqi LGBT is appealing for funds to help the work of their members in Iraq. They don't yet have a bank account. They have asked 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.

An edited version of this editorial first appeared in the March 30th edition of London's The Guardian.

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