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Congressman calls for investigation of Iraq's Gay murders
Congressman calls for investigation of Iraq's Gay murdersights
by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Recently returned from a fact-finding trip to Baghdad, US Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) is asking US officials in Iraq to investigate what he calls "alarming human rights violations that fundamentally threaten the safety of LGBT citizens of Iraq."

"We're in touch with Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International as well as [London-based Iraqi exile organization] Iraq-LGBT," Polis told SGN in an exclusive interview on Thursday. "Things have taken a turn for the worse in the last couple of months, and there's not much prospect of them getting better soon."

In a letter to newly confirmed US Ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill, Polis, along with Congressional colleagues Barney Frank (D-MA) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), notes that "reports of the harassment, detention and execution of LGBT Iraqis by Iraqi law enforcement has reached a fever pitch."

Polis asks the US Embassy in Baghdad to "prioritize the investigation of these allegations, work with the Iraqi government to end the executions of LGBT Iraqis, and make protecting this vulnerable community a priority."

The letter was sent Monday, April 27, and Polis is awaiting a response.

Reports that Gay men are being systematically killed in Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood surfaced shortly after local Shia cleric Sattar al-Battat began to deliver sermons condemning homosexuality.

Initial reports of Gay men killed in twos or threes escalated to reports of mass kidnappings, torture, and murder.

Various Iraqi sources have cited 63 or 72 killings since December 2008. Al-Arabiya news service has also reported gruesome tortures involving "Iranian gum" used to glue Gay men's rectal cavities shut.

The US State Department seemed to scoff at Polis's request for an investigation, however.

"How is the US going to investigate?" State Department spokesperson Noel Clay said when contacted by SGN on Tuesday. "We condemn the persecution of LGBT Iraqis, but in respect to the alleged acts, there is no proof they were killed because they were Gay. There is no proof the Iraqi government was involved in any way."

"Homosexuality is illegal in Iraq," Clay continued.

"Yeah, that's pretty bad," Rep. Polis remarked when Clay's comments were read to him.

"It's hard to get an accurate count [of the victims]," Polis said. "We know there were six people killed at one café in Baghdad. We know there have been several people imprisoned. I talked to one of them and he witnessed the killing of another person in prison. We know a list of names has been posted and many people have fled."

Many bodies have been discovered with notes pinned to them saying "puppy" (the Iraqi equivalent of "fag"), or "Pervert, we will punish you," indicting the victim was deliberately killed because of perceived sexual orientation.

The State Department's Noel Clay told SGN, "I'm not aware that the Iraqi government authorized the killings. What we've heard is that it might be tribes killing their own."

On the contrary, says Polis. "There's evidence that agents of the [Iraqi] Ministry of the Interior might be involved, and the Mahdi Army might also be involved," he told SGN. "There's strong evidence of at least a dire failure in the [government's] duty to protect, if not actual government involvement."

According to Ali Hili of Iraq-LGBT, "There is an intensive media campaign against homosexuals in Iraq at this time which we believe is inspired by the Ministry of the Interior, both in the daily newspapers and on nearly all the television stations."

The Iraq Freedom Congress, a progressive democratic organization based in Iraqi labor unions and women's rights groups, has accused Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army of being behind the killing. A previous wave of killings in 2006 was organized by the Badr Brigades, another Shia militia. While the Mahdi Army and the Badr Brigades are rivals for political influence in Baghdad's Sadr City and in the southern Iraqi port of Basra, both have ties to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Dawa Party.

The spiritual leader of Iraq's Shia community Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani condemned homosexuality in October 2005, issuing a fatwa (legal opinion) that "The people involved should be killed in the worst, most severe way of killing." Al-Sistani's fatwa is thought to have provoked the Badr Brigade murder spree in 2006.

Iraqi Interior Minister Jawad Bolani admitted in 2006 that his ministry had been infiltrated by "death squads" connected with sectarian militias like the Mahdi Army and Badr Brigades. In December last year, 35 Interior Ministry officials were purged by elite special forces under the control of Prime Minister al-Maliki, and charged with plotting to restore secular Baathist government.

The overthrow of Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime by US military forces in 2004 and the subsequent installation of a US-sponsored government made up of Saddam's Islamist enemies left the Iraqi LGBT community in a very tenuous position. Iraq had no laws at all against homosexuality until 2001, when Saddam decided on concessions to religious conservatives in the wake of the first Gulf war. Even after that, there were never large-scale prosecutions of the LGBT community under the Baath party.

While the State Department's Clay declined to say definitively that the US had any influence over the Iraqi government, he did tell SGN, "We speak to them about human rights all the time. The military speaks to the Iraqi military all the time."

"I'm not going to characterize the effectiveness of the discussions," he added.

"We plan to continue to discuss this with the State Department and to build public awareness of the problem," Polis told SGN. "We want to raise the awareness of members of Congress." He urged concerned Americans to contact the State Department and their Congressional representatives.

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