Gay Iraqis face threat of death squads

by Hannah Clay Wareham .
Thursday Aug 20, 2009

The Human Rights Watch released a 67-page report August 17 detailing the violence and abuse suffered by gay Iraqis at the hands of death squads targeting "effeminate men."

"The most trivial details of appearance -- the length of a man's hair, the fit of his clothes -- could determine whether he lived or died," the report read.

Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia of Sadr City in Baghdad has been propagating fear of the "third sex" and the "feminization" of Iraqi men, encouraging militia action against those deemed "effeminate." Witnesses reported that Iraqi security forces have also participated in the massacre.

"Iraq's leaders are supposed to defend all Iraqis, not abandon them to armed agents of hate," Scott Long, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement August 17. "Turning a blind eye to torture and murder threatens the rights and life of every Iraqi."

The report chronicles several incidents of execution, kidnapping, and torture. It is difficult to determine the exact number of victims involved; stigma regarding sexuality keeps many Iraqi citizens silent.

While consensual sex acts among people of the same gender are not criminal offenses in Iraq, gay and lesbian Iraqis can be viewed as harmful or shameful to their families and become the victims of "honor killings," which are viewed as maintaining the honor of a family or tribe and are therefore protected by law.

"Murder and torture are no way to enforce morality," Rasha Moumneh, Middle East and North Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement August 17. "These killings point to the continuing and lethal failure of Iraq's post-occupation authorities to establish the rule of law and protect their citizens."

Surviving and potential victims of the brutal massacre oftentimes cannot find refuge in neighboring countries, where consensual sex acts between members of the same gender can be considered criminal offenses.

Hamid (name has been changed to protect his identity) recalled in the report the last day he saw his partner. "It was late one night in early April, and they came to take my partner at his parents' home. Four armed men barged into the house, masked and wearing black. They asked for him by name; they insulted him and took him in front of his parents. All that, I heard about later from his family," Hamid said.

The body of Hamid's partner was found in the neighborhood the next day in a pile of garbage. His genitals and a piece of his throat were missing.

"Since then, I've been unable to speak properly," Hamid said. "I feel as if my life is pointless now ... For years it has just been my boyfriend and myself in that little bubble, by ourselves. I have no family now -- I cannot go back to them. I have a death warrant on me. I feel the best thing to do is just to kill myself. In Iraq, murderers and thieves are respected more than gay people."

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