Gay Men Targeted In Iraq, Report Says

By Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, August 17, 2009

BAGHDAD, Aug. 16 -- Human Rights Watch will urge in a report to be released Monday that the Iraqi government do more to protect gay men, saying militiamen have killed and tortured scores in recent months as part of a social cleansing campaign.

Although the scope of the problem remains unclear, hundreds of gay men may have been killed this year in predominantly Shiite Muslim areas, the report's authors said, basing their conclusion on interviews with gay Iraqi men, hospital officials and an unnamed United Nations official in Baghdad.

"The government has done absolutely nothing to respond," said Scott Long, director of the gay rights program at Human Rights Watch. "So far there has been pretty much a stone wall."

Homosexuality was tacitly accepted during the last years of Saddam Hussein's rule, but Iraqis have long viewed it as taboo and shameful.

Iraq's human rights minister, Wijdan Salim, has expressed concern about the reported slayings, but few other government officials have addressed the issue publicly or indicated that they are disturbed by the reports.

A senior police official in Baghdad said authorities could not effectively protect gay men because they often do not report crimes.

"To protect someone, you have to know who he is and his location," the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the issue. "It's very easy for the militiamen to find them and harm them, and it's very difficult for our forces to protect them."

Reports of slayings targeting gay men began circulating early this spring in Sadr City, a conservative Shiite district in eastern Baghdad. Gay men were also reportedly slain in Basra, Najaf and Diyala province, Human Rights Watch said.

Gay activists said militiamen loyal to Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr had target lists containing the names of men suspected of being gay. Some were killed and some were tortured, they said. Human Rights Watch said a commonly reported form of torture involved injecting super glue into men's rectums.

When violence in Iraq began ebbing in 2008 and militia and insurgent leaders lost sway in several parts of the country, social norms became less strict. Women began to shed abayas -- long black robes that cover them from head to toe -- in certain formerly conservative neighborhoods. Liquor stores began selling alcohol openly. And gay men began to congregate in cafes and other venues for parties. The advent of the Internet in Iraq after the 2003 invasion also allowed gay men to form bonds and circles of friends.

The attacks on gay men appear to have coincided with a call by religious leaders in Sadr City and other Shiite communities to curb behavior that clerics called unnatural and unhealthy.

Sadr movement officials say they condemn homosexuality, but have denied participating in violence targeting gay men.

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