A 27-year-old leader in Iraq’s gay movement, known as Bashar, was gunned down Sep 25, adding to a toll of documented antihomosexual killings since the 2003 US invasion that now numbers nearly 500, with many more likely unreported.
A 35-year-old Iraqi gay activist who goes by the name Ali Hili, exiled now in London, is the public face of the group Iraqi LGBT and had worked closely with Bashar.
“A car with the four killers pulled up outside the barbershop where Bashar was getting a haircut,” Hili told Doug Ireland of New York’s Gay City News. “They called him by his name, ordered the other people in the barbershop to move away from him and then sprayed him with their machine guns, leaving his bloody corpse riddled with bullets.”
The killing, Hili said, “will cripple us for sure.”
Hili told Gay City News that he had known the murdered activist for 14 years, when he began frequenting Hili’s Baghdad record shop. Bashar’s nickname was “Madonna.”
Bashar became a central figure among Iraqi gays. “He used to run one of our safe houses,” Hili said — a place where Iraqis facing death squads or risk of honour killings at the hands of their families can take refuge. “[B]ut 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. This is such a terrible tragedy, they hit us so hard.”
In June the Australian gay magazine DNA published a profile of Bashar under an assumed name. The article, by Clive Simmons, included a photo that DNA says Bashar supplied for publication and which some Iraqi activists fear may have contributed to his murder.
“The so-called improved security situation in Iraq is not benefiting all Iraqis, especially not gay ones,” declared Peter Tatchell of UK’s Outrage in the Telegraph on the day Bashar was killed. “Islamist death squads are engaged in a homophobic killing spree, with the active encouragement of leading Muslim clerics, such as Moqtada al-Sadr.”
Shia militias, such as Sadr’s Mahdi Army — as well as the Badr Brigade, allied to ayatollah Ali al-Sistani — are implicated in campaigns of social “cleansing” in which gay men, lesbians, trans- gendered people and those accused of having sex for money are tortured and killed.
Unlike Sadr, Sistani is embraced by Iraq’s US-led occupiers as a moderate force. The ayatollah issued a condemnation of homosexuality after the US invasion. “If it is proven before a religious judge,” al-Sistani declared, “the punishment for sodomy or lesbianism is execution.” The reversion to theocracy after Saddam Hussein’s overthrow ended an era of authoritarian but secular rule in which same-sex relations and gender conventions were not harshly policed.
Regrets over invasion
In his interview in DNA, Bashar discussed his work in the Green Zone as a translator for the US military. He helped US instructors train Iraqi police in the use of weapons, and said he faced frequent antigay harassment on the job. “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 told how he was seized by militamen from the Mahdi Army, which often targets those seen as abetting the US occupation.
“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.” Held for 12 days Bashar told of being repeatedly gang-raped and threatened with execution.
“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 10 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 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.”
Antigay killings by militias — Iraqi LGBT has documented 487 cases — are a small but distinct part of the immense violence unleashed in Iraq after the US invasion, with estimates of the number of dead near or above one million persons. Iraq Body Count monitors media reports and notes Bashar’s murder as one of 20 civilian killings on Sep 25.