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UK, Canada and EU embassies spark diplomatic storm by flying Pride flags in Iraq

UK, Canada and EU embassies spark diplomatic storm by flying Pride flags in Iraq

  • One politician called LGBT+ people ‘psychotic patients’ and another demanded the government expel ambassadors.
Muqtada al-Sadr

An Iraqi leader has called LGBT+ people ‘psychotic patients’ after embassies sparked a diplomatic row by raising the LGBT+ rainbow flag in Baghdad.

The embassies of the UK, Canada, the European Union all flew the Pride flag in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad yesterday. The World Bank Office also joined them. The action was to mark International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT).

However, the Iraqi foreign ministry claimed the embassies had upset the ‘sacred religious feelings’ of the majority Shia Muslim nation.

‘An outrageous and improper act’

Hadi al-Amiri is head of the Fatah Alliance, a political coalition of Shiite Muslims.

He said: ‘What the European Union mission and British and Canadian embassies did in Baghdad with the gay flag is an outrageous and improper act that violates the customs, traditions and ethics of Iraqi society.’

Furthermore, he called for the government to expel ambassadors who took part in the flag raising.

Meanwhile Muqtada al-Sadr, a firebrand cleric and chief of the largest faction in the Iraqi parliament, also demanded government action.

Speaking against the flags being flown, he said LGBT+ people are ‘mentally ill needing treatment and guidance’.

Al-Sadr, leader of the Shadrist political movement and a Shia militia, made headlines in March by blaming LGBT+ people for coronavirus. He said at the time:

‘One of the most dangerous things that have caused this epidemic is the legalization of same-sex marriage. Hence, I call on all governments to repeal this law immediately and without any hesitation.’

As leaders of Iraq’s two largest political parties, Sadr and Amari both carry influence. And they demanded Iraq’s embassies and consulates in Britain, Canada and Europe should raise Islamic flags in response.

Meanwhile the Dawa Party of former Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki also criticized the embassies. It said raising the rainbow flag was especially offensive during Ramadan, while Iraqis are ‘closer to God’.

Indeed, few issues in Iraq attract such widespread agreement among fierce political opponents. One lawmaker even demanded the EU embassy should close.

Embassy raising the rainbow flag in Baghdad.
Embassy raising the rainbow flag in Baghdad. Tris Reid-Smith

‘Deeply troubling’

Moreover, the Iraqi foreign ministry claimed in a statement that the move is a ‘violation of the high moral principles and values respected by all divine religions’.

In a sign they wish to dial down the tensions, the British and EU embassies have removed social media posts they placed yesterday about IDAHOBIT.

Senior editor of Persian language TV station Iran International, Fariba Sahraei, has been covering the story.

She said: ‘What we have witnessed with Muqtada al-Sadr and Hadi al-Amiri’s comments is the explicit promotion of homophobia and intolerance in Iraq, where the LGBTQ+ community is already repressed.

‘Similarly in Iran, the LGBTQ+ community can be killed simply for being who they are, and on the International Day Against Homophobia, this is deeply troubling.’

Gay sex is illegal in Iraq with people facing six months in jail. In practice, LGBT+ people also execution, beatings, and torture by vigilantes and Sharia courts.