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Gay Iraqis Face Persecution

Ahmad al-Sa'dawi
Hospitals in Baghdad are receiving a new type of victim these days: young men attacked for being gay.
22.04.2009  |  Baghdad

Across the capital city a new gang calling itself the "righteous people” has begun attacking young men who it says are violating Islamic law by "behaving like women". For religious hardliners, "imitating women" by wearing long hair, women’s clothing, earrings and even make-up is a "great sin" punishable by death.

While gay people in Iraq today enjoy far greater freedom than under the previous regime, persecution is rife and intensifying. According to the Iraqi Gay and Lesbians Society, a society which has a website but no firm contact details, 26 of its members have been killed since 2003 including two minors, 11 year-old Amir and 14 year-old Ahmed.

Recently “the righteous people" distributed three lists in Baghdad’s Sadr City containing the names of ten homosexuals. “Sinner: we will doom you,” declared the lists. Other slogans written in red on the city’s walls threatened the men with death and torture.

Security officials found three torture-ridden corpses of gay men in Sadr, Dawra and Karadah areas of Baghdad. Their killers were not identified. Al-Baghdadiya, a satellite television channel based in Cairo and one of the few media outlets to have reported the attacks, broadcast a report on April 7 saying that 20 young men accused of homosexuality were taken to Ibn al-Nafis hospital in Baghdad with mutilated genitals.

A number of citizens who have witnessed attacks on young men because say that officials and the media did not to stop or report the incidents despite the fact that the attacks represent a flagrant violation of personal rights and individual freedoms guaranteed by the country’s constitution.

Some of these attacks are even said to be carried out by the security forces themselves. One eye-witness told Niqash that “a police patrol in Shaab district, north east of Baghdad, stopped two young men “behaving like women” in mid March and forced them to take-off their clothes in front of other passers-by and made fun of them and their naked bodies.”

Homosexuality is largely frowned upon across Iraqi society and it seems that sympathy for their deteriorating plight is non-existent. Gay people are perceived as violating social norms and threatening the society with “moral decay.” An eyewitness who saw an attack against a young man said: “The dog got what he deserved.” This perception has legitimatized attacks on them.

According to Iraqi law all breaches of social or religious custom can only be dealt with by the judiciary. There is no room for religious law and yet since 2006 militias have been attacking gay people with the religious backing of a number of Islamic clerics.

Despite the continued attacks, gay people have become more confident in recent months, displaying their sexuality more openly, as a result of the wider improvement in security conditions across the country.

“Easy communications makes it easier for homosexuals to meet each other in the different areas, to be courageous, and to gain more self-confidence," said social scientist Alaa Hameed.

According to Dr. Sardar Muhammad Ali, a hormones specialist, a number of gay men have come to his clinic "with a desire to make their bodies look more like women’s.” He said that these men are “attempting to challenge society without fear of showing their homosexuality."

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