BY DOUG IRELAND | Five underground gay activists were abducted in a police raid on a secret gay planning meeting in Baghdad's Al Shaab district on November 9, in a body blow to Iraqi LGBT, the London-based group with supporters throughout Iraq of which the five victims were all members.
Within days, five other gay men in Baghdad were also kidnapped-and with family, friends, and colleagues unable to secure any news of their whereabouts, it is feared that all 10 Iraqi gays have been murdered, victims of the ongoing “sexual cleansing” campaign by anti-gay religious death squads operating throughout the country. (See this reporter's “Shia Death Squads Target Iraqi Gays,” in Gay City News, March 23-29, 2006.)
At the time of the raid on the activists' meeting, they were speaking via an Internet voice connection with Ali Hili, the gay Iraqi Muslim who coordinates the Iraqi LGBT group from London.
“We were talking, and all of a sudden I heard the sounds of the door being kicked in and a lot of noise, and the connection went dead,” Hili told Gay City News by telephone from London.
“It took me 24 hours to find out what happened, but I finally reached my friend Samir, another member of our Baghdad network, who told me, 'The guys have all been arrested,'” Hili added. “People saw the raid being carried out-it was the work of Badr Corps members all dressed in Ministry of Interior uniforms.”
Anti-gay death squads have been systematically targeting, intimidating, assaulting, and killing Iraqi gays ever since a death-to-gays fatwa issued last fall by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the supreme spiritual leader of all Iraqi Shia Muslims. The well-armed Badr Corps, which has carried out Sistani's lethal fatwa, is the military arm of the Iranian-backed Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the powerful 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, whose salaries had been paid by Iran, has now been integrated into the government's Ministry of the Interior, and its members wear police uniforms and have full police powers.
Hili told Gay City News that the five abducted activists were meeting to plan a January rendezvous in Amman, Jordan, to discuss the deadly plight of Iraqi gays with representatives of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and from Amnesty International.
“This core group of activists had regular meetings every week or two weeks,” Hili said. “We had set this particular meeting at a time when there was electricity-since in that neighborhood there is only two hours of electricity a day by generator-so that I could speak with them. We believe that either the phone line used to arrange the meeting, or the Internet connection on which we were speaking, was wiretapped.”
The Badr Corps has copied Iranian methods of Internet entrapment of gays, and used them extensively to identify and target Iraqi gays for sexual cleansing.
Hili said that “these five had been doing important work on behalf of Iraqi LGBT documenting the execution of Iraqi queers so that we can tell these stories to the world. Three of them were new members who'd been active with us only a few months, and all were bright young enthusiasts. Amjad was 27-he's a journalism student; Ali is 21, and also a college student; and Ayman is only 19, and just finished high school.”
The other two abducted activists, Hili said, were original members of the Iraqi LGBT group's Baghdad network-Rafid, 29, a coiffeur and make-up artist, and Hassan, 24, a taxi driver and garage mechanic.
“The disappearance of Hassan is particularly hard for me to bear,” the 32-year-old Hili said. “For one thing, he was an important part of our network, because, as a Shia, he could travel to the south of Iraq, to places like Karbala, where he was collecting information on attacks on and killings of queers and trying to start a little gay movement in parts of the south.”
“But more than that, we were very close. When he was 12, I'd helped him get out of a terrible family situation, where he was being sexually abused by family members-he was a very devastated child then. We became very good friends after that. It makes me so sad to think that he has probably now been murdered,” Hili said with evident emotion.
Five other gay men were also arrested by Interior Ministry police within days of the abduction of the Baghdad activists. Police believed to be Badr Corps members arrested four employees at the Jar al-Qamar barbershop in the al-Karada district of Baghdad, an establishment very popular with gay men.
Then, in mid-November police arrested another Iraqi LGBT activist, 35-year-old Haidar.
“Haidar, who was from a rich family, owned a clothing store, and was well known as a supporter of our group, was kidnapped near his home in Sadr City,” Hili said. “Haidar had received many death threats because it was frequently said that he was gay-in fact, he was a very generous guy who had been giving money to support a number of gay men who had gone into hiding after they'd received threats to their lives from the death squads. Eyewitnesses told our people in Baghdad that Haidar was kidnapped by Mahdi Army soldiers all dressed in black, their typical attire.”
The Mahdi Army is the fierce, armed militia loyal to radical fundamentalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, and has also carried out sexual cleansing targeting gays.
Hili said that his group had recently learned of two new anti-gay fatwas, “issued between August and October. One fatwa, proclaimed by a mullah who is a religious leader for Muqtada al-Sadr, was against our group, Iraqi LGBT. It said that 'people who want to harbor and protect gays should be killed.' The other anti-gay fatwa was issued against me personally by Ayatollah Sistani's Council of Mullahs-we're still trying to get the exact text. Communication inside Iraq among gay people is so difficult, you know, because everyone is afraid their phones are tapped-and they have reason to be afraid,” as the abduction of the Iraqi LGBT group's activists shows.
Hili said the fatwa targeting him “was in my real name”-Hili is a pseudonym he adopted for security reasons. As soon as he became visible as the Iraqi LGBT group's spokesman, he began receiving many threats of violence and death in the U.K. from supporters of SCIRI and Ayatollah Sistani there. Hili believes that “they probably got my name from a July Badr Corps raid on a safe house our group maintained in Basra. They seized most of our information, our computer records, e-mail addresses, and documents-and my real name was in some of those documents.”
Hili spoke to Gay City News late Monday night, following President George W. Bush's meeting that day with Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, president of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). Al-Hakim heads the SCIRI-led United Iraqi Alliance, which has the largest number of parliamentary seats in the government alliance.
“This has been a terrible day, I cried so much,” Hili said, asking, “How can the American president meet this murderer, Hakim? He is the founder of the Badr Corps, which is killing us! He brought the death squads to Iraq! For Iraqis, his hands are full of blood. Our people say he is worse than Saddam! All day I've been talking to people in Iraq and getting e-mails from Iraq-there's a lot of anger in Iraq that Bush is meeting with Hakim, and a lot of despair among gay people. Because when the president of America meets with the man who is the leader of the death squads which are killing gay people, given what we see every day, it makes us lose hope.”
With these words, Hili's voice broke, and he wept.
After a moment, he resumed.
“Just this week, a lady called us and told us of her brother, Alan, a Christian who was 24, who lived in a Shia neighborhood, and who had been murdered for being gay,” he said. “And every time these people say, 'Please tell our message to the world.' That's why we keep on with our work.”
The Iraqi LGBT group desperately needs money to improve its communications inside Iraq, to buy computers to replace those seized by police, scanners, cell-phones, and other material so that it can document the lethal anti-gay campaign of sexual cleansing. The group does not have its own bank account for legal reasons, but checks for the Iraqi LGBT group should be made payable to the U.K. gay rights group OutRage!, with a cover note stating it is a donation for “Iraqi LGBT-UK” and mailed to: OutRage!, PO Box 7816, London SW14 8WT, England, U.K.