Three Years On, Americans Ignore Pleas of Repression Even Worse than Saddam’s
Following a death-to-gays fatwa issued last October by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, death squads of the Badr Corps have been systematically targeting gay Iraqis for persecution and execution, gay Iraqis say. But when they ask for help and protection from U.S. occupying authorities in the Green Zone, the secure area officialdom has carved out within Baghdad, gays Iraqis are met with indifference and derision.
“The Badr Corps is committed to the sexual cleansing of Iraq,” said Ali Hili, a 33-year-old gay Iraqi exile in London who, with some 30 other gay Iraqis who have fled to the United Kingdom, five months ago founded the Abu Nawas Group there to support persecuted gay Iraqis. The group is named for a revered eighth-century classical poet of Arab and Persian descent known throughout Middle East cultures and famous for his poems in praise of same-sex love.
“We believe that the Badr Corps is receiving advice from Iran on how to target gay people,” Hili told Gay City News.
In the Islamic Republic of Iran, the regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been carrying out a lethal anti-gay pogrom, notably through entrapment schemes carried out on the Internet. The Badr Corps in Iraq has recently begun to use this tactic to identify and hunt down Iraqi gays.
The well-armed Badr Corps is the military arm of the Iranian-backed Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the powerful Shia group that is the largest political formation in Iraq’s Shia community, and was headquartered in exile in Tehran until Saddam Hussein’s fall. The SCIRI’s Badr Corps is trained and commanded by former Iraqi army officers.
The Ayatollah Sistani, the 77-year-old Iranian-born cleric who is the supreme Shia authority in Iraq, is revered by SCIRI as its spiritual leader. His anti-gay fatwa—available on Sistani’s official Web site—says that “people involved” in homosexuality “should be killed in the worst, most severe way of killing.”
Speaking by telephone from London, Hili said that “there is a very, very serious threat to life for gay people in Iraq today. We are receiving regular reports from our extensive network of contacts with underground gay activists and gay people in Iraq—intimidation, beatings, kidnappings, and murders of gays have become an almost daily occurrence. The Badr Corps was killing gay people even before the ayatollah’s fatwa, but Sistani’s murderous homophobic incitement has given a green light to all Shia Muslims to hunt and kill lesbians and gay men.”
Now, Hili said, “when Badr thugs attack and beat up a gay person in the street, crowds of passers-by gather around to cheer them on.”
“Badr Corps agents have a network of informers who, among other things, target alleged immoral behavior,” Hili continued. “They kill gays, unveiled women, prostitutes, people who sell or drink alcohol, and those who listen to Western music and wear Western fashions.”
“Badr militants are entrapping gay men via Internet chat rooms,” Hili said. “They arrange a date, and then beat and kill the victim. Males who are unmarried by the age of 30 or 35 are placed under surveillance on suspicion of being gay, as are effeminate men. They will be investigated and warned to get married.
“Badr will typically give them a month to change their ways. If they don’t change their behavior, or if they fail to show evidence that they plan to get married, they will be arrested, disappear, and eventually be found dead. The bodies are usually discovered with their hands bound behind their back, blindfolds over their eyes, and bullet wounds to the back of the head.”
Tahseen is an underground gay activist in Iraq, and a correspondent there for the British Abu Nawas Group. A 31-year-old photography lab technician, Tahseen told Gay City News by telephone from Baghdad this weekend, “Just last week, four gay people we know of were found dead. I am afraid to leave my room and go out in the street because I will be killed. We all live in fear.”
Tahseen said that men who seem obviously gay “cannot walk in the street. My best friend was recently killed for being gay.”
Tahseen confirmed the murderous efficiency of the Badr Corps’ Internet entrapment program.
“Within one hour after they meet a gay person in an Internet chat room, that person will disappear and be found dead,” he said, adding that “since Sistani’s fatwa, the life of a gay person is worth nothing here, and the violence and killings have gotten much, much worse.”
Tahseen lives in a Baghdad apartment with his two brothers.
“Right now, I have five gay men hiding in my room in fear of their lives, because they cannot go outside without risking being killed,” he said, with anguish audible in his voice. “They are all listening to me as I speak with you.”
All those hiding with Tahseen are in their late 20s or early 30s, and by their mannerisms would be easily identified as gay by most Iraqis. I spoke briefly with one of them, who expressed his fear in a soft, shy voice. One of those being given refuge by Tahseen is Bashar, a 34-year-old stage actor, who was forced to go into hiding after receiving death threats against him and his family. Before he went underground, his house was raided several times by the Badr Corps. Fortunately, he was not at home, otherwise he fears he would have been kidnapped and killed.
“We desperately need protection!” pleaded Tahseen. “But, when we go to the Americans, they laugh at us and don’t do anything. The Americans are the problem!”
“These assaults and murders have been reported to the Green Zone, but the Americans don’t want to upset the religious authorities, and so they do nothing or treat gay Iraqis with contempt or as an object of humor,” Hili explained, adding that the reports to U.S. authorities were made by underground gay activists.
The U.S. has long sought to court Ayatollah Sistani, and gave its approval for SCIRI’s participation in the current coalition government. SCIRI has since brokered the current plan for talks between the U.S. and Iran over Iranian interference in Iraq, a plan much in the headlines last week.
Hili, who has a bachelor’s degree in English literature, and who used to work for Iraqi radio and television, fled to the U.K. in 2002 after having been persecuted for being gay under Saddam Hussein.
He has been receiving telephoned threats of beatings or death from supporters of SCIRI and Sistani living in England since he became publically identified with the cause of Iraqi gays and as a gay man himself.
“I had two menacing calls just last night,” he said.
“In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s there were a couple of gay clubs in Baghdad,” Hili explained, “but they were all shut down in 1993 after sanctions were imposed against Saddam’s regime and Iraq. We had a weekly gay nightclub in the Palestine Hotel that became the gathering place for gay people, especially for actors and others in the entertainment world, but it, too, was shut down. I was arrested three times for being gay, and tortured. After several attempts, I finally was able to escape the country, going first to Dubai, then Jordan, then Syria, and finally reaching England.”
Now, Hili says, he is heartbroken to see that, three years after Saddam’s fall, life for gay people in Iraq is even more unbearable than before.
“Just last night I spoke via Internet with a young gay man in his mid-20s who was caught by SCIRI agents. He had no identification with him—gay people are afraid to carry their IDs when they go in the street in case they are caught,” because both the police and the Badr Corps agents would inform their families and add them to a list of known homosexuals, which would be used later to target them for killing.
“This young man had his left arm broken by the SCIRI thugs—I saw this with my own eyes via Internet camera,” Hili said.
The Abu Nawas Group, according to Hili, is accumulating evidence that Iranian agents are advising SCIRI and the Iraqi police on how to implement anti-gay persecution. Not only has Iran’s Internet entrapment campaign targeting gays been adopted in Iraq, he said, but there are reports that Iranian agents have been involved in interrogations, questioning those arrested in Persian through translators.
“This is particularly true in Basra in the south,” Hili said.
Hili provided information on the cases of several gay victims of the Badr Corps, but noted, ““These killings are just the ones we have been able to get details about. They are the tip of an iceberg of religious-motivated executions. Gay Iraqis are living in fear of discovery and murder.”
Hili provided details on several of those killed in Iraq. Ammar, a young gay man of 27, was abducted and shot in back of the head in Baghdad by suspected Badr militias in January 2006. Haydar Faiek, aged 40, a transsexual Iraqi, was beaten and burned to death by Badr militias in the main street in the Al-Karada district of Baghdad in September 2005. Naffeh, aged 45, disappeared in August 2005. His family was informed that he was kidnapped by the Badr organization. His body was found in January 2006. He, too, had been subjected to an execution-style killing.
Sarmad and Khalid were partners who lived in the Al-Jameha area of Baghdad. Persons unknown revealed their same-sex relationship. They were abducted by the Badr organization in April 2005. Their bodies were found two months later, in June, bound, blindfolded, and shot in the back of the head.
The al-Arabiya TV network reported this weekend that a backroom deal had been reached to nominate Abdel Mahdi, a leading SCIRI figure and currently Iraq’s vice president, to be the new Iraqi prime minister—the accord is said to have been reached by representatives of SCIRI, the Kurdish List, and the Sunni Iraqi Concord Front. There is great fear that the Badr Corps-SCIRI campaign against gay people will become official Iraqi policy, especially if the report that a top SCIRI politician may become the new prime minister turns out to be true. Under the Iraqi Constitution—virtually written by the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, and his associates—Sharia law, which mandates death for homosexuals, is the foundation of all Iraqi law.
Reuters reported last August 20, under the headline, “U.S. Concedes Ground to Islamists on Iraqi Law,” that the U.S. brokered a deal on the Constitution “making Islam ‘the,’ not ‘a,’ main source of law—changing current wording—and subjecting all legislation to a religious test.” Reuters quoted a leading Kurdish politician as saying at that time, “We understand the Americans have sided with the Shi’ites. It’s shocking. It doesn’t fit American values. They have spent so much blood and money here, only to back the creation of an Islamist state… I can’t believe that’s what the Americans really want or what the American people want.”
If you would like to help support gay Iraqis, the Abu Nawas Group desperately needs money to expand its work on their behalf. Checks for the Abu Nawas Group should be made payable to the U.K. gay rights group "OutRage!", with a cover note stating it is a donation for "Abu Nawas Iraqi LGBT – UK". and mailed to: OutRage!, PO Box 7816, London SW14 8WT, England, U..K.
Doug Ireland can be reached through his blog, DIRELAND, at http://direland.typepad.com/direland/.