Iraqi government behind targeted gay killings, says BBC

Iraqi militias, like the Sahwa or 'Awakening' militiamen pictured here, have been consistently targeting and murdering Iraqi homosexuals or those who are "emo," youth who subscribe to Western fashion and music trends. However, a recent investigation implicates the Iraqi government in being behind the murders.
Credit: Mahmud Saleh

As many as 100 people have been killed in Iraq for being gay since news broke in March of this year that so-called "emo" individuals were being targeted.

BBC investigation has found that Iraqi authorities are responsible for a surge in anti-gay violence, causing some young people in Baghdad to hide in their homes or flee to safe houses around the city. 

"Murders of gays by militiamen in Iraq have been well-documented. But evidence that has been uncovered shows that the government is complicit in systematic and organized persecution of homosexuals," reported Natalia Antelava from Baghdad yesterday, in a BBC program that detailed the lengths the government will go to to eradicate homosexuality in post-Saddam, post-war Iraq.

The severe uptick in murders and attacks on gay people can be traced to an Iraqi Interior Ministry announcement in February, which expressed support for attacks on emos, saying they are "satanic and must be eradicated."

The London-based non-profit advocacy organization Iraq LGBT also accuses the government of being behind the killings and believes "the Ministry of the Interior tracks sexual minorities with the aim of eliminating them," through keeping lists and forcing those arrested homosexuals to inform on their friends and boyfriends under duress.

"Instead of protecting sexual minorities, the Iraqi government facilitates their murder by arresting the victims and handing them over to militias who kill them," wrote Iraq LGBT founder Ali Hilli in a recent BBC editorial. "Iraqi LGBT sources working inside Iraq have found the militias are also getting intelligence about the identities of sexual minorities from the Ministry of the Interior." 

The Guardian reports that it's nearly impossible to put a finger on who's actually responsible for carrying out the killings, noting that "many of the killings happened in east Baghdad, stronghold of Shia militias such as Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi army and Asaib Ahl al-Haq." However, the police force and Interior Ministry are also known to have militia members among their ranks. 

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Although homosexuality is not illegal in Iraq like some of its neighboring countries, many gay people have recounted the same story: friends and lovers have been beaten or taken, without arrest warrants, and sometimes never come back. 

The United Nations confirmed that at least 12 people had been killed for being emo, short for 'emotional,' which began in the West as a particular kind of hard rock music with its own genre of fashion and hairstyle trends, not unlike heavy metal or punk. 

Reports surfaced that emo teens were being murdered with bricks (a practice called mawt al-blokkah, death by blocking), being arrested and beaten in custody, or at the very least forced into attending reeducation camps.

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Professor Mark Levine, in a detailed explanation of murders of gays in Iraq for Al Jazeera wrote that in Iraq's conservative society, homosexuality is one of the largest threats to the culture, which makes those who identify as emo, or even wear Western-style clothing easy targets for the militias. 

As uncontrollable as the militias seem, as out-of-hand as they're painted for "hunting" emos and homosexuals, it seems the disorganized bands of fundamentalist Muslims are actually being allowed to act out by the Iraqi government.

"As several Iraqi commentators have pointed out, deploying these gangs for such activities is one way to keep them occupied, and ensuring their anger and discontent is not directed at more appropriate targets," wrote Levine. 

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Despite this grave and dangerous situation, there is hope from within Iraq.

A group of parliamentarians has asked for an investigation into the killings, according to Human Rights Watch, and one of the most revered Shiite sheikhs in Iraq, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has gone against the grain of most other religious leaders and said to Al Arabiya in March that "targeting 'emo' youth is an act of 'terrorism' and a 'bad phenomenon for the peaceful co-existence project.'"

For more of GlobalPost's coverage of gay rights, check out our Special Report "The Rainbow Struggle: A Global Battle over Gay Rights."

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