Iraqi LGBT — the London-based group with a network of members and supporters inside Iraq that documents anti-gay violence — last week released details on the latest series of murders of Iraqi gays by fanatical Islamist death squads. At the same time, the group says lack of money will force it to close two of the five safe houses it maintains in Iraq for gay Iraqis who have been threatened with death and forced to flee their homes. And the group’s coordinator has himself been targeted for death by an anti-gay fatwa.
“I received a death fatwa sent to my personal e-mail address last month,” Ali Hili, the 33-year-old gay Iraqi exile who is the full-time volunteer coordinator of Iraqi LGBT, told me by telephone from London. “It came from the official headquarters of Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Qum, Iran, and was stamped with his signature.”
The 78-year-old Ayatollah Sistani, the Iranian born-and educated cleric who is the spiritual leader of all Iraqi Shia Muslims, issued an infamous fatwa calling for death for all gays and all lesbians in “the most severe way possible” in October 2005, inspiring the deployment of anti-gay death squads by the Badr Corps, military arm of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the most powerful political Shia group in Iraq and now the cornerstone of the current Iraqi government. The Badr Corps was integrated into the Iraqi Interior Ministry last Fall, and its members now wear police uniforms and are able to operate with full police powers. Gay City News first broke the story about the systematic murder of Iraqi gays last March (see this reporter’s article, “Shia Death Squads Target Iraqi Gays-U.S. Indifferent,” March 23, 2006).
Hili — who was the subject of an excellent, lengthy profile in the February issue of GQ magazine by openly gay journalist David France — said the fatwa targeting him called on him to “repent” his homosexuality or face killing, was dated February 5, and was received by Hili shortly after Hili’s own brother, who was not gay but who had been helping Iraqi LGBT and received death threats for his activism, was murdered in Baghdad. “I reported this death threat against me to the Metropolitan London Police, and am now under their protection,” said Hili, who is also the Middle East spokesman for the militant British gay rights group OutRage.
“Our ability to report on the assassinations of gays in Iraq by the death squads has increased in the last few months as word of our Iraqi LGBT group has spread among Iraqi gays, both by Internet and by word of mouth,” Hili explained. “That means we now have contacts, supporters, and members in a number of cities, for example in the south of Iraq, which we didn’t have a year ago,” he added.
Iraqi LGBT reported it had documented the following new murders, which Hili told me are “only the tip of the iceberg”:
n Anwar, a 34-year-old taxi driver, was a member of Iraqi LGBT and had helped run one of the group’s safe houses in Najaf. After he was stopped at a police checkpoint and arrested in January this year, he disappeared. His body was found in March, and he had been subjected to an execution-style killing;
n Nouri, a 29-year-old tailor in Karbala, had received many death threats by letter and phone accusing him of leading a gay life. He was kidnapped in February, and found dead a few days later, his body mutilated and his head severed;
n Hazim, a 21-year-old Baghdadi who was well-known to be gay, received death threats because of his homosexuality, and was seized in his home in February by police on an arrest warrant accusing him of leading “a scandalous life” because of his homosexuality. Hazim’s body was subsequently found with several gunshots to the head, and his family was forced to leave their home in fear;
n Khalid, a 19-year-old student who lived in the al-Kadomya district of Baghdad, was kidnapped in December 2006. Last month, his family received a phone call from police telling them to reclaim Khalid’s body from the Baghdad morgue — where they found the body had been tortured and burned;
n Sayf, a gay 25-year old, worked as a translator for the Iraqi police. He was kidnapped in February in Baghdad’s Al-Adhamya suburb by men in Ministry of Interior uniforms who were driving a vehicle bearing police markings, but who were wearing black head masks. Several days later, Sayf’s body was discovered, with his head cut off;
n Hasan Sabeh, a 34-year-old transvestite who was also known as Tamara, worked in the fashion industry designing women’s clothes. Hasan, who lived in the al-Mansor district of Baghdad, was seized in the street by an Islamist death squad and hanged in public on a holy Shia religious day on January 11, and his body was then mutilated and cut to pieces. When Hasan’s brother-in-law tried to defend him, he was also murdered;
n Rami, a 29-year old Basra shopkeeper, was the subject of rumors widely circulated in his neighborhood saying he was gay. He was kidnapped, and his dead body was found in January;
n Khaldoon, a 45-year-old gay man who worked as a chef, lived in the majority Shia Baghdad district of al-Hurriya. He was kidnapped in November 2006 by the Mahdi Army — the armed militia of extremist Shia cleric Hojatoleslam Moqtada al-Sadr, who is now in hiding and, according to an article in the April 10 Times of London, is believed to be in Iran), whose death squads also have been executing gays. Sadr’s political formation is also a key component of the curent government. In February of this year, Khaldon’s decaying corpse was found;
n Occasionally, some victims of the Islamist extremists have been able to buy their survival. Hamid A., a 44-year-old bisexual man from Baghdad’s al-Talibya district, was kidnapped twice by the Sadrist militia. The first time, in April 2006, he, his nephew and brother were all kidnapped and tortured. They were members of a very large extended Sunni family which paid a huge ransom to save their lives. Hamid was kidnapped a second time in November 2006 after an informant reported to police and the Sadrist militia that he was suspected of being gay and was drinking alcohol. He was held in a large office building in Sadr City — a poor Baghdad suburb that was named after Moqtada al-Sadr’s father, a prominent Grand Ayatollah, and is a Sadrist stronghold — along with other detainees, mostly Sunnis and Christians. Hamid was again ransomed, and is now in hiding, a rare survivor of the Sadrist militia’s interrogation centers;
n Heterosexual friends of gays are also executed. This happened to Majid Sahi, a 28-year-old civil engineer who was not gay but who had been helping Iraqi LGBT members in Baghdad. Majid was abducted from his home by Badr Corps members, and his family was told he was kidnapped because of his “immoral behavior” in helping Iraqi gays. His body was found with bullet wounds to the back of his head on February 23, 2007.
n Alan Thomas was a 23-year-old gay Iraqi Christian who lived in al-Gadeer, a majority Shia district of Baghdad. He received many threats for being gay and was eventually kidnapped and executed by Shia death squads in late 2006.
“These killings and kidnappings are hit-and run, and most of the information we have been able to confirm says they are carried out by people wearing police uniforms and riding in police cars — it’s become a pattern,” Hili told me.
Hili says he and a handful of volunteers — all gay Iraqis in exile — telephone Iraq at least three times a week to collect and confirm information about the murders of gays. “The phone is safer for our communications with Iraq than the Internet, which can be easily monitored, and also it’s hard to have Internet access for most Iraqis — it’s expensive, and phone connections to the Internet are often very poor,” Hili recounted.
A January Human Rights Report of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) confirmed the organized “assassinations of homosexuals” in Iraq (see this reporter’s article, “U.N. Confirms Iraqi Gay Killings,” January 25, 2007.) The report said UNAMI had been “alerted to the existence of religious courts, supervised by clerics, where alleged homosexuals would be ‘tried,’ ‘sentenced’ to death, and then executed.”
The UNAMI report added that, “The trials, presided over by young, inexperienced clerics, are held… in ordinary halls. Gays and rapists face anything from 40 lashes to the death penalty…One of the self-appointed judges in Sadr City believes that homosexuality is on the wane in Iraq. ‘Most [gays] have been killed and others have fled,’ he said. Indeed, the number who have sought asylum in the U.K. has risen noticeably over the last few months… [This judge] insists the religious courts have ‘a lot to be proud of. We now represent a society that asked us to protect it not only from thieves and terrorists but also from these [bad] deeds.’”
Hili told me that “there are lots of these courts run by self-appointed clerics, both Sadrist and from SCIRI, operating in neighborhoods in Baghdad like Sadr City and al-Shola and even more in the south, in Najaf, Kerbala, and Basra. And one of the few points on which Sunnis and Shias are united is hatred of homosexuals. We’ve even tried to contact Christian churches in Iraq, but they, too, are so homophobic it’s unbelievable — I thought maybe they’d have a little charity, but they hate us too. I have Christian gay friends who have tried to seek help from their churches in Iraq and have been refused.”
Hili said the Iraqi LGBT group is suffering from a shortage of funds so severe that it will be forced to close two of the five safe houses it operates in Iraq for men who have been threatened with death for being gay and forced to flee their homes. “They are told to repent and change their ways or else be killed. We currently have two safe houses in Baghdad, one in Diwaniya — a large city an hour and a half south of Baghdad — and also one each further south in Nasiriiya, Basra, and Najaf. We’ve reluctantly decided we have to close two of the safe houses in the south by the end of this month, because we can’t pay the rent for May and June,” Hili sadly reported. “We are considering trying to move the guys in those southern safe houses to Baghdad, which means they’ll be far from their families.”
Iraqi LGBT does not yet have a bank account, Hili explained. “Operating an LGBT acount in Baghdad would be suicide — and all our group’s members in London are Iraqi refugees seeking asylum status, so their lack of proper legal status makes it difficult for them to open a bank account,” he said. That is why, if you want to help Iraqi gays, you are asked that checks be made payable to OutRage, with a cover note marked “For Iraqi LGBT,” and sent to OutRage, P.O. Box 17816, London SW14 8WT, England. OutRage then forwards the contributions to Hili and Iraqi LGBT for wire transfer to Baghdad.
Doug Ireland, a longtime radical journalist and media critic, runs the blog DIRELAND, where this article appeared April 10, 2007. The article was written for Gay City News, New York’s largest gay weekly.