by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
The U.S. State Department has condemned a wave of brutal murders targeting Gay men in Iraq, and has contacted the Iraqi government about the situation.
At least 14 young men have reportedly been killed, and the death toll may exceed 40. According to some reports, victims had their skulls crushed with cement blocks.
'We strongly condemn the recent violence and killings in Iraq by groups who appear to be targeting individuals based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, or personal expression,' a State Department spokesperson told SGN.
'These acts of intolerance have no place in democratic societies.
'We are monitoring this situation closely on the ground and in Washington, and have expressed our concern to the Government of Iraq.
'At the State Department, we will continue to advance a comprehensive human rights agenda that includes the elimination of violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.'
The State Department declined to say how it has engaged with the Iraqi government, but Michael McClellan, a spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, told Gays Without Borders that the U.S. 'is fully engaged at the highest levels to end these attacks, bring the perpetrators to justice, and ensure a secure and free future for all Iraqis.'
According to the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), it first received reports of 'a wave of targeted killings of individuals who are perceived to be Gay or Lesbian' on March 5.
'According to Iraqi human rights activists, in early February 2012, an unidentified group posted death threats against 'the adulterous individuals' in the predominantly Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad and Basra,' the IGLHRC said in a statement.
'Your fate will be death if you don't quit doing this,' the New York Times quotes one flyer. 'Punishment will be tougher and tougher, you Gays. Don't be like the people of Lot.'
'The people of Lot' refers to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, which were destroyed - according to both the Bible and the Quran - for immorality.
CNN reporter Mohammed Tawfeeq says he was shown a copy of a flyer posted in Sadr City, a predominately Shia and working-class neighborhood of Baghdad.
'We strongly warn every male and female debauchee, if you do not stop this dirty act within four days, then the punishment of God will fall on you at the hands of Mujahedeen,' it read.
The word 'mujahedeen' means 'fighters in a jihad' and indicates the flyer was being circulated by an Iraqi militia organization.
CNN says the flyer identified 33 Iraqis, and the ILGHRC adds that the posted flyers identified potential targets by name and age. According to one Iraqi interviewed by CNN, and identified by them as 'a Gay activist,' he received a personal warning from a neighborhood militia.
'Ten days ago, I received a letter from militiamen threatening me that if they found me then they will not kill me like other 'perverts,' but they will cut my body into pieces,' he said.
According to The New York Times, an Iraqi Interior Ministry officer said that in the past two weeks, police had found the bodies of six young men whose skulls had been crushed.
Reuters reported the toll to be 14 or more, citing hospital and security officials, while human rights groups say that more than 40 young men have been killed.
Ali Hili, a Gay Iraqi activist who lives in London, said as many as 750 Gay Iraqis have been killed in the past six years, and thousands have emigrated or are living in hiding.
'It's a clear war on sexual minorities on Iraq,' he said. 'They are refusing to admit it.'
Reuters reporter Peter Graff was shown a photo of one victim 'lying sprawled in the back of a white pickup truck, his head disfigured by blunt trauma.'
According to a police report obtained by Hili's associates in Iraq, the young man, Saif Asmar, was found bludgeoned to death in the afternoon of February 17.
'They laid him down on the pavement and smashed his head with a cement block,' the victim's friend, who identified himself by the pseudonym Roby Hurriya, told Graff.
Those being targeted for murder are young men believed to be Gay, or those identified as 'emos' - which in Iraq means wearing longish hair, and dressing in skinny jeans and black T-shirts adorned with skull motifs.
On February 13, Iraq's Interior Ministry released a statement denouncing the 'phenomenon of emo' as Satanic. The ministry said its Social Police would be sent to investigate 'the emo' and had the authority to go into all of Baghdad's schools to ferret them out.
'They have official approval to eliminate them as soon as possible, because the dimensions of the community began to take another course, and is now threatening danger,' the statement said.
The State Department declined to comment on Iraqi government involvement in provoking the killings, but did note that a number of Iraqi officials have condemned the attacks.
'Iraq's religious leaders and members of Parliament denounced these attacks and have taken steps to address this issue,' the department's spokesperson told SGN.
'A representative for Grand Ayatollah Sistani has condemned this violence and the Chairperson of the Human Rights Committee within Iraq's Parliament has condemned these actions as well.'
Ayatollah Ali Sistani is the spiritual head of Iraq's majority Shia community, and is currently the only grand ayatollah living in Iraq.
In 2005 Sistani posted a fatwa (religious decree) on his website calling for the execution of Gay people in the 'worst, most severe way.' He took it down after it was condemned by the international community.
Muqtada al Sadr, the Shia cleric who heads up the Mahdi Army militia, also said that emos should be dealt with in a lawful way, although he reportedly called them 'unnatural.' He denied responsibility for the violence.
Ibrahim al-Abadi, an Interior Ministry spokesman, said the ministry's February 13 statement had been misinterpreted. He said emo youths were free to dress as they pleased, and said the government would protect them.
For those Iraqis who are already dead, this is obviously too little, too late. But even those who are alive say they still live in fear for their lives.
Reuters' Peter Graff spoke to a 19-year-old Gay man he identified as Noor. Noor told him that he fled Baghdad for the city of Basra in the south, hoping he would be safer, after he heard about the murders.
'We are young men, and everywhere in Iraq we should be free to do whatever we want, to wear what we like, cut our hair how we like,' he told Graff.
'We have not hurt anyone. Why are they doing this to us?'
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