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July 25, 2007

NEW IRAQI GAY MURDERS CONFIRMED

The following article was written for Gay City News, New York's largest lesbian and gay weekly:

A new wave of assassinations of Iraqi gays - part of the organized campaign of "sexual cleansing" of homosexuals that has been one of the saddest byproducts of the Anglo-American invasion and occupation of Iraq - has been confirmed by Iraqi LGBT, the all-volunteer, London-based group of gay Iraqi exiles that has been documenting the grim work of the Islamist anti-gay death squads in Iraq.

Ali_hili_gq Ali Hili (left) is the 33-year-old gay Iraqi exile who founded Iraqi LGBT three years ago in London with 30 other gay Iraqis, and is now the group's coordinator. Iraqi LGBT has members, supporters, and informants throughout Iraq, with whose help the group has been able to document and confirm a bloody harvest of assassinations by fanatically anti-gay Islamist enforcers.

Hili told me this week of the following new confirmed murders and arrests of gay Iraqis, all of which occurred at the beginning of this month. (Pseudonyms have been used for those still living to protect their safety.)

Mustafa, 26, was a well-known gay man in his neighborhood in the city of Najaf, south of Baghdad, who went out for a walk with a friend to shop for clothes. Mustafa was stopped and arrested by the local militia of the Badr Corps - the armed branch of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which is the largest Shia political formation in Iraq.

The Badr Corps was integrated into the Ministry of the Interior's police last year, and its anti-gay death squads since then have operated with full police powers.

Mustafa was separated from his friend, taken to an isolated area, and shot and killed on the spot by the Badr militia, reported Haydar, an Iraqi LGBT member in Najaf.

Ali, a gay lad of 17, was also killed in Najaf in early July.

"One of our main sources in Najaf told us that his young friend Ali had been killed for his gay behavior and his sexuality, " Hili told this reporter, adding, "Ali's mother told our source during a phone conversation that her son had disappeared, only to be later found shot to death in a nearby neighborhood."

In the small Southern Iraqi town of al-Simawa - a stronghold of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi army, which has also deployed anti-gay death squads - two gay friends, aged 29 and 30, received death threats targeting their homosexuality. Within a few days, the two young men were assassinated.

Ali, another young gay man from al-Simawa, had moved to Baghdad a few years ago after finding a better job there and living conditions more congenial with his sexuality. After a short visit to his hometown of al-Simawa, on his way back to Baghdad he was stopped at a police checkpoint, arrested, and accused of being a "terrorist." Ali managed to call the Iraqi LGBT representative in al-Simawa, who is well-known and well-connected in the little town.

"Through friends who have connections with the police, " Hili said, "our representative discovered they'd been told by the police officer in charge of handling the investigation of Ali that Ali was well-known as a gay man in al-Simawa, and that because of that the police officer wanted to accuse Ali on suspicion of terrorism and thus punish him for his homosexuality."

Ali is still in police custody.

Gay City News first broke the story about the systematic murders of Iraqi gays last March (see this reporter's March 23, 2006 article, "Shia Death Squads Target Iraqi Gays.") and regular reports on the sexual cleansing campaign in Iraq have continued to appear in these pages.

Links to these stories are available online in the Web version of this article.

Ayatollah_sistani_best These latest murders bring to nearly 400 the total number of assassinations targeting gays which Iraqi LGBT has been able to confirm since it began to document the murderous campaign of sexual cleansing being waged by hard-line religious elements. This drive began with the death-to-gays fatwa issued in October, 2005 by the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani (left), the 79-year-old Iranian born-and-trained chief spiritual leader of all Iraqi Shia Muslims.

Sistani is recognized by SCIRI as its spiritual and political guide, and both Sistani and SCIRI have been aggressively courted by the U.S. occupier. SCIRI now holds the balance of power in the U.S.-approved Iraqi government.

But, warned Hili, the nearly 400 murders confirmed by his group are "only the tip of the iceberg," as Iraqi LGBT's resources are severely limited and many assassinations of LGBT Iraqis because of their sexual orientation go unreported as such, partly because the victims' families are afraid of reprisals, and partly because the virulently homophobic police not only care little about the murders of gays but - infiltrated as they are by the SCIRI's Badr militia - are frequently complicit or participants in those crimes.

Moreover, secure communications within the country are quite difficult - both because electricity is only available a few hours a day and frequently cut, rendering the Internet unusable, and because the anti-gay death squads and their operatives in police uniforms are constantly monitoring the communications of suspected LGBT Iraqis.

Iraqi religious extremists have adopted the tactic of Internet entrapment of LGBT people used by Iran in its anti-gay crusade, as Hili illustrated with the latest in a long string of stories about such snares.

In late May, two gay Baghdad University students - Ahmed, 23, and Zaid, 24 - arranged a date with two men through a gay Internet chatroom. Their "dates" were very good looking men with a brand new car. After chatting awhile, the two students agreed to accompany their "dates" to the al-Karada neighborhood of Baghdad.

It turned out that their "dates" were in reality members of Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi army who had been posing as gay in order to entrap them. The Mahdi army men locked the car doors, took out guns, and began furiously beating Ahmed and Zaid.

The two gay lads were then kidnapped, taken to a deserted area, stripped, blindfolded, had their hands bound behind their backs with painful wire strips, and were then even more severely beaten and tortured at gunpoint.

The Mahdi army men demanded to know the names and phone numbers of other gay men, and went through the details of everyone listed in the students' mobile phones.

The two gay students fully expected to be killed - that is how such kidnappings of gays usually finish - but, miraculously, after having told them to kneel on the ground and say their prayers, the Mahdi army men drove away, and left the youths in the secluded area where they'd been tortured. They were eventually rescued by a passing motorist.

Ahmed and Zaid were eventually aided by Dina H., a lesbian activist with Iraqi LGBT, who runs one of the safe-houses which Iraqi LGBT maintains for those who have been targeted by the Islamist anti-gay death squads and so have had to flee their homes.

After their horrific kidnapping, these two gay students have vowed to hide their sexuality to protect themselves.

"Normally, gay kidnap victims are always killed, " Hili said. "Ahmed and Zaid do not know why they were not shot. They are pleasant, kind young men - perhaps their kidnappers took pity on them. But they have now learned that being gay in Iraq is impossible - it is too dangerous."

Dina, the Iraqi LGBT activist who helped the two students and collected their story, "is running a safe-house that hides eight gays and lesbians who have fled death threats and attempted honor killings by their families," Hili recounted. "She has helped many gay Iraqis over the last four years. We all think she is incredibly brave."

Unfortunately, Iraqi LGBT was forced last month to close two of the five safe-houses it had maintained for gay and lesbian Iraqis fleeing death, because of lack of funds to support them and those who'd found refuge in them.

"We often feel let down by the gay community in the West, " Hili said sadly. "We need help to protect our friends and save lives. We need money for the safe-houses, food, electricity, security protections, clothing, and to help pay the phone bills of members of the Iraqi LGBT group so we can continue to report these murders and kidnappings."

Hili added, "We are also paying for medication for our members in Iraq who are HIV-positive - otherwise, they will get no treatment. If it is discovered they have HIV, they will surely be killed."

Hili begged, "In these hard times for gay Iraqis, the whole worldwide LGBT community should stand up for the rights of Iraqi LGBTs, and support these victims of sexual cleansing in Iraq."

Readers wishing to send a contribution to help Iraqi LGBT's vital, life-saving work haveIraqi_lgbt_logo  two ways to do so. Direct credit card donations can be made via the secure PayPal link on the Iraqi LGBT Web site.

If contribution by check is preferred, the U.K.-based gay human rights group OutRage! is working with Iraqi LGBT to support its work. Iraqi LGBT does not yet have a London bank account, since as refugees seeking asylum its members lack the legal status to establish one, and operating an Iraqi LGBT bank account in Baghdad would be suicide. Iraqi LGBT asks 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, England, U.K. OutRage! then forwards the donations received to Hili and Iraqi LGBT for wire transfer to activists in Baghdad.

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