Reports over the last month have again shown the desperate plight of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in supposedly-free Iraq.
Despite over 5,000 American and British citizens dying to create an open and democratic society in the gulf state, LGBT people, instead of being liberated from persecution are now in a far worse situation than under Saddam Hussein’s rule.
Because of various restrictions and sensitivities very few groups have been able to help gays and lesbians in Iraq. One of them is New York based IRAP (Iraqi Refugees Assistance Project); another is London-based Iraqi LGBT.
A recent BBC article on Iraqi LGBT explained the starkness of this change.
In it, he said that ‘even through the worst years of Saddam Hussein, sexual minorities in Iraq enjoyed a fair degree of freedom’.
But the US-led invasion of 2003 delivered power to the Islamic Dawa party, inspired by hardline Iranian Shia clerics. And while the security situation deteriorated universally, for sexual minorities Iraq became what Hilli aptly describes as ‘hell on earth’.
He says that by 2007 political, religious and militia groups had launched an ‘organized, coordinated campaign to hunt, arrest, and torture and kill everyone they perceived as gay’.
And GayAsylumUK has confirmed that the Iraqi authorities actively conspire in this, arresting LGBT people and handing them over to the militiamen who kill them.
Sources in Iraq claim the Ministry of Interior is actually feeding details of sexual minorities to the militias.
Some gay refugees have fled to neighboring Syria but the violence there has forced them to move elsewhere or even to return to Iraq.
This hidden minority whose voice cannot be heard needs international attention and support, especially from the governments of the allied forces who occupied Iraq. For the mandate was not to go and liberate a few Iraqis, but all the country’s citizens.
Analysts have said that Iraq’s conservative, religious culture alone cannot explain the extent of the persecution of gay people. Though homosexuality is unacceptable in most Middle Eastern countries, in Iraq it is different and far beyond typical homophobia and the sigma of homosexuality.
There is evidence of a systematic persecution of Iraqi homosexuals and those perceived to be gay. For since the regime change, even to be perceived gay makes you vulnerable.
This was shown when in February this year the media including GSN, reported that dozens of young men had been killed. Those into ‘emo’ music, or looking like they were, were conflated with LGBT people and the UN confirmed at least 12 men had been killed with other sources saying many more were murdered.
The Iraqi government stated emos were ‘satanic’ – providing more evidence the government is behind the campaign to eradicate homosexuality from the country. State policemen told Iraqi youths that if they do not behave respectable they could not guarantee their ‘safety’.
In Lebanon, by contrast, the radical Shia Islamic group Hezbollah shows a degree of tolerance towards gays. And LGBT people in Saudi Arabia, arguably the most conservative Middle Eastern state, have not experienced persecution on Iraq’s scale. Even in Iran, where homosexuality is illegal and often punished, an underground gay scene exists.
During Saddam Hussein’s three-decade regime, Iraqi LGBTs enjoyed relative freedom and security and after the US-led invasion some liberal-minded Iraqis and activists like me expected more liberty for gay people. However in the government that took shape and radical conservative Islamic forces came to power, it became evident that they were unwilling to tolerate anything connected to the west, including open homosexuality.
In short, in post-occupation Iraq, being gay or even looking gay can be a death sentence.
‘Now they have nothing better to do than look for gays and kill them,’ says Ahmed who has not left the room he is in for 10 weeks because of the risk to his life in Iraq. He shares that room with three others who have escaped from persecution from their families.
The BBC reports it is very difficult to determine how many homosexuals have died in so called ‘honor killings’ at the hands of militiamen or their own families. Its investigation has found ‘law enforcement agencies are involved in on-going, systematic and organized violence against gays, while the country’s western-backed government refuses to acknowledge it’.
According to a 2009 report by Human Rights Watch dozens, and possibly hundreds, of gay men have been killed since the US invasion, of Iraq. The report stated that some of the men were murdered by their families in so-called ‘honor killings’, but most were killed by radical militia groups, which the Iraqi government says it has disbanded but Iraqi gay men say are still active and pose a ‘grave threat’.
They are just as fearful of the countless police and military checkpoints supposedly intended to keep Baghdad residents safe. For in Iraq, you can be a policeman by day and a militiaman by night. These mixed allegiances and blurred lines make it easy for the government to blame militia groups for the killings.
If our respective governments are unable to secure the safety of Iraqi LGBTs, they must admit to the situation existing and grant protection and asylum instead.
The Dutch government announced in July it was opening its doors to LGBT Iraqis, after declaring the country unsafe for homosexuals. The Dutch Immigration Minister Geert Leers had already halted the deportation of LGBT asylum seekers back to Iraq in June, but took the further step of declaring that it is impossible to be openly gay without risking your safety in any part of the country.
Our receptive governments must be held accountable for creating this situation and we must demand this situation is changed.
In March this year international digital LGBT activists All Out started a petition to halt the emo, gay and trans killings in Iraq. They asked Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki must act to stop the murders.
They and other organizations, like my own GayAsylumUK, receive no state-funded financial help but are run on passion. Sadly, at present, organizations like this are all the west has put in place between gay Iraqis and the end of a gun.
How long is the world going to ignore the plights of Iraqi LGBTs and how many more must die?