New Disappearances in Iraq

Exiled leader in London say 10 gays, trans missing since December

By: DOUG IRELAND | Seven gay and three transgendered Iraqis have disappeared in the past month and a half and are presumed to be the latest victims of the lethal campaign of sexual cleansing by anti-gay Shiite death squads, according to the London-based group Iraqi LGBT.

Ali Hili, the 33-year-old gay Iraqi exile who is the founder and coordinator of Iraqi LGBT, which has members, supporters, and informants throughout Iraq, told Gay City News this week by telephone from London, “New reports tell us that the seven gay men were arrested by the police in the cities of Karbala, Najaf, Basra, and Ammara, and no one has been able to obtain any news of them since December 2.”

Hili said the men – named Hussein, Mawla, Najim, Haydar, Khalid, Basim, and Rasool – are all presumed dead, but their last names cannot be published on the slight chance that one or more of them might still be alive. He added that three transgendered Iraqis also disappeared last month in different parts of Iraq “after receiving multiple threats of death if they didn't move out of the neighborhoods where they lived.”

“The situation is getting worse day by day, and most of our group's members and contacts inside Iraq are so afraid that even talking about the situation of Iraqi LGBT people over the phone or through chat rooms on the Internet is something they're too scared to do,” Hili said. “Most of the gay community are using secret code words to mislead authorities about their locations, identities, and activities when speaking on the phone or communicating in chat rooms.”

Since its founding in November 2005 by Hili and 30 other exiled gay asylum-seekers in the UK, Iraqi LGBT has documented well over 400 separate cases of LGBT Iraqis who have been murdered by the death squads. Most of these killings have been the work of the Badr Corps, the armed militia of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the largest Shiite political formation and the core of the current US-backed government. The Badr-Corps' spiritual guide, the 77-year-old Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, issued a death-to-all-gays fatwa in 2005.

Last year, the Badr Corps was integrated into the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior, and its anti-gay death squads now wear police uniforms, have full martial powers, and can carry out kidnappings and murders of LGBT Iraqis with impunity. This reporter has been chronicling the anti-gay murder campaign in the pages of this newspaper since early 2006, and links to previous articles on Iraq may be found at the bottom of the web version of this article at gaycitynews.com.

Also this week, Iraqi LGBT released a video of the muscular interrogation of a transgendered gay man by Iraqi police. “His name is Ali, but he was living his life as a woman, and was a member of our group,” Hili told Gay City News, “and was one of those who had been living in the safe house we ran in Basra for those threatened with death.”

In November, Iraqi LGBT was forced to close the three safe houses it ran in the south of Iraq, including the one in Basra, due to lack of funds.

“We have, sadly, lost contact with many of those who were sheltered in our safe houses which we were obliged to close,” Hili explained, adding, “Of those with whom we have still had some contact, we know that they have sold everything they had to survive and rent a room to live in, as they were all rejected by their families because of their homosexuality. Some have been forced to work as male prostitutes because they are too obviously gay and can get no other work.”

Hili said Iraqi LGBT members obtained the video by bribing a policeman with $200 to get it.

“The video, apparently made by police for their amusement, is disturbing in the fact that in addition to showing the police standing around and laughing and making crude remarks in Arabic about Ali's sexuality, it is also dubbed with hate and revenge music in Arabic,” Hili said.

Describing the video, Hili said, “Clearly this is a very feminine-looking man dressed as an Iraqi woman, heavy set and all dressed in a black traditional garment and veil. He is very sad looking and, you can tell, very fearful for what may be coming his way, as off to the side there is a policeman with hair clippers preparing to shave the long black feminine hair from Ali's head. Ali bends over as they shave him. Clearly he has been held for a day or two as now he has a growth of a beard in the shaving scene whereas he did not in the beginning of the video. They proceed to shave his head completely and have him stand up to face the cameras and this is where the video ends. We have no word or idea of what has taken place since the video was shot. We are hoping and praying that Ali is still alive.”

In the past month, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government steered an amnesty bill through the Iraqi parliament providing for release of some imprisoned Sunnis suspected of loyalty to the deposed Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein. According to a January 1 story from the Associated Press, the measure explicitly excludes those jailed for homosexuality.

This reporter also spoke this week with a Colorado Democratic congressional candidate who traveled to Iraq in December. Jared Polis, an openly gay Internet multi-millionaire seeking to succeed liberal Democrat Mark Udall, said he tried to make contact with gay Iraqis, but explained, “I got well over my head. After making some contacts in chat rooms, I eventually spoke to Ali Hili of Iraqi LGBT, who warned me that one of the contacts I had made was considered a probable agent of the death squads. And when I got to Baghdad, the gays I spoke to by telephone told me they were too afraid to be seen entering the Green Zone, where I was staying, for fear of being identified as collaborators. Homosexuality in Iraq is considered a Western import. I was eventually able to meet in person in Amman, Jordan, with some Iraqi gays and lesbians who had fled there in fear of their lives”

“All the gays and lesbians I talked to confirmed that there are security risks to their lives at all levels, and since it seems unlikely they would all share the same unfounded paranoia, I believe them,” Polis said, adding that these LGBT Iraqis “all spoke very positively of their lives in the Saddam Hussein era, when they didn't have fundamentalist death squads trying to kill them or scare them into exile.”

Polis told Gay City News that he was quite disappointed that Democratic members of Congress have not spoken out against the horrific anti-gay campaign in Iraq that has taken so many lives.

Doug Ireland can be reached through his blog, DIRELAND, at http://direland.typepad.com/direland/ The Iraqi LGBT website is at http://iraqilgbtuk.blogspot.com/. The group is desperately in need of donations to keep open its two remaining safe houses in Iraq, and donations can be made via the secure PayPal account on its site.

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