Religiously-motivated militias have killed hundreds of queer Iraqis in the past four years, says rights group Iraqi LGBT.
At least 350 Iraqi queers have been murdered, estimates Ali Hili, a gay Iraqi refugee who coordinates the Iraqi rights group from London, England.
“I think there is more than that. We can’t know the actual number because we’re unable to reach some areas in Iraq,” says Hili, adding that many gays may avoid reporting violence for fear of their own safety.
Exact numbers are hard to determine, but a United Nations human rights report released in January says that attacks against queers have increased in the past year.
In May, two gay Iraqi men were lured on Internet chat rooms by homophobes posing as gays. When they met for a “date,” the two men were beaten and forced to give the names and phone numbers of other gay men.
“They luckily escaped. After that, we have received reports about so many other unlucky people, especially from the south of Iraq,” says Hili.
Militias continue to carry out fatwa against queers
Hili says the murders — motivated mostly by religious hate — are carried out by different factions, including members of the Mahdi militia, the Iraqi police force, and even homophobic families and community members.
In October 2005, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the spiritual leader of Iraqi Shia Muslims, issued a fatwa calling for the death of gays and lesbians in “the most severe way possible.” While the message has been since removed from his website, it has not been revoked. Hili accuses Shia-based private militias, including the Mahdi and Badr, of continuing violence against queers in Iraq.
With the current lawlessness in Iraq, the country is an insecure environment for homosexuals, notes the UN report.
Iraqi queers need western support
Outrage! — a UK-based gay human rights group — is working with Iraqi LGBT to raise awareness about the growing violence against queers in Iraq, but Hili says he would like to see more support from the international community.
“Few people seem to care about the fate of Iraqi gays and lesbians,” says Dina H, a coordinator of Iraqi LGBT working inside Iraq, in an Outrage! press release. She runs a safe house for Iraqi queers, hiding those who have been threatened with death.
Hili says most support from the western gay community so far has been moral, rather than financial.
“We need lots of help and support, especially funds to help and support our activities and our safe houses,” says Hili. Iraqi LGBT members need money for clothing, food, electricity, and security protection.