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Iraqi Gay Leader Gunned Down; Militia Killings Continue

by Kilian Melloy
Friday Sep 26, 2008
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In America, the media is rife with assurances that stability has increased in Iraq. In Iraq, for gays and lesbians at least, times have never been worse, a fact that was underscored by the assassination of a GLBT leader, most likely by a religious militia.

The UK Gay News reprinted a statement issued by UK-based GLBT Equality activist Peter Tatchell, the leader of the gay rights group Outrage!.

Tatchell wrote, "This morning, I received news from Iraq that the coordinator of Iraqi LGBT in Baghdad, Bashar, aged 27, a university student, has been assassinated in a barber shop.

"Militias burst in and sprayed his body with bullets at point blank range."

Continued Tatchell’s statement, "He was the organizer of the safe houses for gays and lesbians in Baghdad. His efforts saved the lives of dozens of people."

As reported in earlier articles in the gay press, such as a Gaywired item from Oct. 24 of last year, religiously motivated militias in Iraq have been scouring the country for gays and lesbians--and eradicating them.

A network of safe houses has been established to give Iraqi gays and lesbians refuge, but the effort has been hampered by a lack of funds.

The story has been overlooked by America’s mainstream media, with a major exception being a story that appeared in Newsweek last month.

Meantime, major newspapers in the UK have provided ongoing coverage of the situation.

Tatchell also wrote an article on the subject that appeared in the Sept. 25 edition of the UK newspaper The Guardian.

Wrote Tatchell in the Guardian article, "The ’improved’ security situation in Iraq is not benefiting all Iraqis, especially not those who are gay."

Tatchell’s article referenced the Newsweek article, continuing, "Islamist death squads are engaged in a homophobic killing spree with the active encouragement of leading Muslim clerics, such as Moqtada al-Sadr, as Newsweek recently revealed."

But the UK coverage of the situation had been ongoing long before the American magazine’s story broke; Tatchell referenced another story that UK readers had long since heard about, writing, "One of these clerics, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, issued a fatwa urging the killing of lesbians and gays in the ’most severe way possible.’"

Tatchell provided a link to a video by David Grey, a documentary titled Queer Fear: Gay Life, Gay Death in Iraq.

Wrote Tatchell of the short documentary, "Watch and weep. It is a truly poignant and moving documentary about the terrorization and murder of Iraqi lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people."

Wrote Tatchell, "For gay Iraqis there is little evidence of the transition to democracy. They don’t experience any newfound respect for human rights.

"Life for them is even worse than under the tyrant Saddam Hussein."

Far from democracy flourishing in Iraq, Tatchell wrote, "The reality on the ground is that theocracy is taking hold of the country, including in Basra, which was abandoned by the British military.

"In place of foreign occupation, the city’s inhabitants now endure the terror of fundamentalist militias and death squads."

Added Tatchell, "Those who are deemed insufficiently devout and pure are liable to be assassinated."

Tachell cited reports issued by the United Nations that show how "death squads of the Badr organization and the Mahdi army are targeting gays and lesbians... in a systematic campaign of sexual cleansing."

Tatchell also recounted reports passed along to him by contacts in the country that members of the Iraqi police were working in tandem with the religiously-instructed death squads, with uniformed police spotted rounding up five members of Iraqi LGBT, the group that runs the safe houses for gays and lesbians.

Wrote Tatchell, "Nothing has been heard of the five victims since then.

"In all probability, they have been executed by the police--or by Islamist death squads who have infiltrated the Iraqi police and who are using their uniforms to carry out so-called honor killings of gay people, unchaste women and many others."

The five Iraqi LGBT members, Tatchell wrote, had been involved in investigating and reporting on the murders of gays and lesbians by the death squads, which kill with religious approval and without hindrance from legal authorities.

The plight of GLBT Iraqis is only part of an even larger and more gruesome picture, Tatchell wrote: "Large parts of Iraq are now under the de facto control of the militias and their death squad units. They enforce a harsh interpretation of sharia law, summarily executing people for what they denounce as ’crimes against Islam.’

Continued Tatchell, "These ’crimes’ include listening to western pop music, wearing shorts or jeans, drinking alcohol, selling videos, working in a barber’s shop, homosexuality, dancing, having a Sunni name, adultery and, in the case of women, not being veiled or walking in the street unaccompanied by a male relative."

But gays come in for especially zealous hunting; wrote Tatchell, "Even children suspected of being gay are abducted and later found shot in the head."

One such incident aroused international condemnation: in April of 2006, a 14-year-old boy named Ahmed Khalil was gunned down in front of his home, reportedly by men wearing Iraqi police uniforms.

The story was covered the following month by the UK Gay News, which quoted Ali Hili, an Iraqi exile living in London and who works with Outrage!, as the group’s Middle East Affairs spokesperson, as saying, "Ahmed was, in fact, a victim of poverty."

Added Hili, who is also the coordinator for the UK branch of Iraqi LGBT, "He sold his body to get money and food to help his impoverished family survive."

Continued Hili, "According to a neighbor, who witnessed Ahmed’s execution from his bedroom window, four uniformed police officers arrived at Ahmed’s house in a four-wheel-drive police pick-up truck."

Hili recounted, "The neighbor saw the police drag Ahmed out of the house and shoot him at point-blank range, pumping two bullets into his head and several more bullets into the rest of his body."

In the Guardian article, Tatchell reported, "Lesbian and gay Iraqis cannot seek the protection of the police, since the police are heavily infiltrated by fundamentalists, especially the Badr militia."

Iraqi LGBT continues to operate safe houses for gay and lesbian Iraqis fleeing the death squads.

Wrote Tatchell, "Iraqi LGBT is appealing for funds to help the work of their members in Iraq. Since they don’t yet have a bank account, they request that checks should be made payable to ’OutRage!,’ with a cover note marked ’For Iraqi LGBT,’ and sent to OutRage!, PO Box 17816, London SW14 8WT."

Tatchell’s article continued, "See Iraqi LGBT for more information or to make a donation by PayPal."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network’s Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association’s Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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