BY DOUG IRELAND | A key figure in the clandestine Baghdad network of the association Iraqi LGBT was assassinated by an anti-gay Islamist death squad ten days ago.
Bashar, a 27-year-old graduate of Baghdad's Academy of Fine Arts, was machine-gunned while getting a haircut, making him the 17th Iraqi LGBT underground gay activist to be murdered in the lethal campaign of “sexual cleansing” that has killed hundreds of Iraqi queers since October 2005. At that time, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the octogenarian spiritual chief of all Iraqi Shiite Muslims, issued a death-to-all-gays fatwa.
Bashar's last name cannot be published out of concern for the safety of his family.
“There were four killers, all wearing black masks,” said Ali Hili, the 35-year-old gay Iraqi exile who is the London-based coordinator and co-founder of the all-volunteer Iraqi LGBT, which has members throughout Iraq, runs safe houses for those threatened with death by the fundamentalist murder squads, and documents the ever-escalating campaign of anti-gay assassinations in Iraq.
To date, Iraqi LGBT's network of underground gay activists has been able to assemble documentation of 487 deliberate murders of Iraqis targeted by the death squads because they were known or believed to be gay, lesbian, or transgendered. That figure may well be only the tip of the iceberg, given the difficulty of their investigations in an utltra-homophobic society riven by armed conflict among ethnic and religious groups.
According to investigations by Iraqi LGBT members in Baghdad, “A car with the four killers pulled up outside the barber shop where Bashar was getting a haircut,” Hili told Gay City News by telephone from London. “They called him by his name, ordered the other people in the barber shop to move away from him, and then sprayed him with their machine guns, leaving his bloody corpse riddled with bullets.”
“Bashar was very close to me, and I can't stop weeping,” said Hili, adding, “I knew him since 1994, when he began coming to the record shop I was then running in Baghdad, and we became very close friends. Bashar was handsome, very funny, and camp, with a great heart that never knew hate. His nickname was 'Madonna' because he was such a great fan of hers.”
The murder of Bashar “will cripple us for sure,” Hili told this reporter. “He used to run one of our safe houses, but then we paid for him to learn bookkeeping and fiscal management, and in June he took over administration of all our financial matters in Iraq, tracking every transfer of funds from London for our work there and making sure that every penny was used to maximum effect. This is such a terrible tragedy, they hit us so hard.”
Hili continued, “About a week before he was murdered, Bashar said that he was very scared for himself and his family because he had begun receiving death threats. He was the sole support of his four sisters and his seriously disabled mother, who cannot speak or walk. After Bashar was killed, the family fled back to their home town of Mosul.”
These recent death threats followed publication this summer of an interview with Bashar by freelance Australian journalist Clive Simmons in the glossy Australian gay monthly DNA. Even though Bashar was identified with the pseudonym “Harth Jobory” in the article, a photograph of him appeared with it. The magazine said it had written permission from Bashar for use of the photo, which the slain man had provided.
Bashar's comrades in the underground Baghdad Iraqi LGBT network suspect that a copy of the DNA article was obtained by the Ministry of Interior and passed to one of the death squads of the former Badr Corps, although that is impossible to confirm. Last year, the Badr Corps – the fierce military arm of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the largest Shiite political group, which recognizes Sistani as their political and spiritual guide — was integrated into the Ministry of Interior. Its death squads now operate with full police powers and the panoply of technical and intelligence resources available in the Ministry.
In the DNA interview, Bashar recounted his experiences while working as a translator for US military police in Iraq who were training Iraqi police. He also recounted his kidnapping by Islamist fundamentalists last year.
“The soldiers used to talk about the freedom in America and how great life was there, but they used to make jokes about gays,” Bashar told DNA. “The Americans who patrolled the streets threw a bottle of water at my friend and I because we were gay. They were driving by in their Humvees, and they had these windows where they could look out from, and I could see that they were laughing at us and calling us fags. They'd said that when they came here they would change things – they would liberate us – and here they were disrespecting us.”
“Nevertheless,” Bashar continued, “I began working inside the Green Zone as a translator for the American military police, who were teaching the Iraqi police how to use weapons. They gave me a hard time. They were very negative people. One day, my American friend told me, 'All the people talk about you.' I said, 'Why? I do a good job.' He said, 'They are not open-minded people. They are not predisposed to accept gay people teaching the police.”
So, Bashar recounted to the Australian journalist, “I went to see the chief of the American company who had hired the translators to clarify the situation, but he was an asshole. He just looked me up and down and said, 'You are a disease. A piece of shit. We have no place for people like you. We have enough faggots fucking each other in San Francisco.'”
Bashar subsequently went to work translating for other army contingents at the Camp Delta base in southern Iraq, where one night the taxi he was traveling in was stopped by five militiamen loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr, the fundamentalist extremist cleric who has egged on his own anti-gay death squads.
“They put a cape over my face and drove me somewhere,” Bashar told DNA, “and when we got there, they took off my clothes and started beating me. They kept me naked for three days. I cried for hours. I couldn't sleep. They didn't give me any food or water. During the beatings I just tuned out and kept thinking of the lyrics of Madonna songs – especially the 'Erotica' album – and that gave me the courage to go through what they did to me.
“They beat me every two or three hours for 10 minutes at a time. They pissed on me many times. I said, 'Please God, I want to die. I come from a good family.' They said I was gay and that they had orders to kill gays and lesbians wherever they found them. Then they said they wanted to fuck me. I refused and they gang-raped me. There were ten of them, and they came in the room one after the other. One of them was so drunk that he threw up on me… This went on for 12 days. “
Bashar was eventually released, naked, to an interrogator ordered to murder him. But knowing Bashar's family, the interrogator instead beat him relentlessly and then took a photograph of his bloodied face to make it seem as if he had killed him.
“I told one of the Americans in charge of security inside the base what had really happened to me,” Bashar recounted to the Australian journalist, “and that I hadn't been able to sleep or eat very well since, but he just laughed at me. He said, 'You're lucky to have had ten dicks in 12 days.'”
Bashar expressed his disillusionment with the US occupier. “I was a fool back in 2003,” he told DNA. “I stood in the street and applauded the American troops when they entered Baghdad. But America is living in denial about what it has done to our country…
“You think you've done such a great thing 'liberating' us from Saddam, but where is the freedom for gay men and women? Sure, we are free – free to live in hiding, free to run for our lives, and free to die for the 'crime' of being gay. You in the West do not think about your freedom. It's nothing to you. But there is a price to be paid for freedom.”
And Bashar ultimately paid that price in a hail of machine gun bullets.
Iraqi LGBT is desperate for money to continue its life-saving work, expand its capacity to document the murders by the anti-gay death squads, and publicize the Iraqi gay cause.
Hili explained that activists in Iraq have survived on donations from a Dutch government-funded human rights group, a gay American philanthropist and congressional candidate, and a Chicago foundation.
“For the last few months, our safe houses – we recently opened a new one in a northeast suburb of Baghdad, and now have three – have been funded by the Dutch human rights group HIVOS,” he said from London. “And we also got a second $5,000 contribution from Jared Polis,” the openly gay Internet multimillionaire and philanthropist who this summer won a Democratic primary for Congress from Colorado and is favored to be elected in November.
In addition, the Heartland Alliance, a large Chicago-based foundation, is funding four safe-house flats for gay Iraqi exiles in a neighboring Arab country, which cannot be named for security reasons.
“But,” said Hili, “the HIVOS funding ends in December, and we don't know how we'll be able to keep our Iraqi safe houses open after that. And our London operation doesn't have a single pound – we can't even afford to print brochures or leaflets or publicize our website. We also need equipment for our investigations inside Iraq – computers, scanners, cell phones, and the like. “
Americans who want to donate to help Iraqi LGBT save lives and publicize the plight of queer Iraqis have two options. Direct donations may be made using a credit card via a secure Pay Pal button on the Iraqi LGBT web site at http://iraqilgbtuk.blogspot.com/. US citizens who want to make a tax-deductible contribution may do so through the Heartland Alliance, a tax-exempt group which has agreed to act as a fiscal agent in the United States for Iraqi LGBT, “with 100 percent of donations going directly to beneficiaries in Iraq and neighboring countries,” according to Sean Casey, coordinator of Heartland's Iraqi LGBT fund. Donations may be sent by check payable to Heartland Alliance and earmarked “Iraqi LGBT” at the following address:
c/o Sean Casey
for Human Needs
& Human Rights
208 S. LaSalle Street,
Chicago, IL 60604
Doug Ireland can be reached through his blog, DIRELAND, at http://direland.typepad.com/.