As America prepares to leave Iraq, after an occupation dating back to 2003, a new wave of gay suppression might be under way. According to Ali Hili, chair of Iraqi LGBT, a London-based human rights group aiding queer Iraqis, police recently raided a gay party in Kalar, a small town in Kurdistan, in the north of Iraq, arresting 25 men.
According to a news release from the group, “The men were attending a party at a private house on 15th of September when the police raided the address. After fierce protests against the raid by human rights organisations, including Amnesty International, all but three men have since been released from the city’s Garmyan Prison. Several of those detained claim to have been subject to violent beatings while being held in solitary confinement. The authorities in Kalar refuse to disclose the whereabouts of those still in detention, the conditions in which they are held, or the charges they face.”
With U.S. about to withdraw, oppression aimed at LGBT Iraqis continues
Kurdistan, a semi-autonomous region of Iraq only loosely under central government control since 1991, has not seen the intense violence of Baghdad and the southern portion of the country, where an estimated 700 or more gay men have been killed by religious insurgents, militias, and other forces.
“It is happening,” Hili said of the northern region. “It happened before. We don’t get that much information. The first time we got the information from a Kurdish website that published this information.”
He continued, “In the south, there are still quite a few raids we were not able to document, and some we were not able to publicize because of protecting men from their families. We have seen a pattern of monitoring individuals. The government and the militias are now informing family members about behaviour. They are creating a system that has led to the deaths of so many individuals, because families are taking revenge. The militias are taking details like in text or video and sending it to families about their sons and daughters. And these people go crazy and kill their sons and daughters and brothers.”
Honor killings of LGBT Iraqis by family members have been widely reported since the war began.
Under Saddam Hussein, Iraq did not have a law against homosexuality, and that remains the case under occupation and the new government, according to Hili. Still, the war released a wave of violence against gays, women, intellectuals, and other symbols of a secular society.
Beginning in 2006, Gay City News’ Doug Ireland began reporting on the killing of Iraqi queers following a death-to-gays fatwa issued the year before by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the nation’s supreme Shia authority. This reporter traveled to Iraq in 2007 and 2009 and witnessed first-hand the life and death struggles of gays there, which formed the basis for two series of stories published in this newspaper.
Hili is, at best, ambivalent about the impact the US pullout will have on members of the LGBT community.
“It is going to get worse before it gets good at any point,” Hili said. “We’re watching carefully at how the situation is going to go. I think it is not going to be any worse than what we have seen in the past two to three years. The US invasion brought to the gay community nothing but catastrophe. It was a mistake, it brought fundamentalism and lack of civil society, and then there was the ruling by an Iraqi Shia religious government. They have been put in power because of that big mistake.
“I don’t think the US withdrawal will be better for us in general. Iraq will be another Afghanistan. There is no stability for anyone, and most of all for us, the gay community. I don’t see any future for us.”
For more information on Iraqi LGBT, visit iraqilgbt.org.uk.