Iraq has become a life threatening environment for its gay population. A recent investigation conducted by the BBC has uncovered an initiative put forth by Iraqi militias and law enforcement agencies that seek to exterminate gay citizens. The death toll has continued to rise as the Iraqi government denies the existence of such killings. As global organizations like the UN have yet to take any action, the LGBTQ community of Iraq has been abandoned in life threatening peril.
This was not always the social setting for gays in Iraq. Previously, at the time of Saddam Hussein’s reign, the gay community was afforded a sense of security and some freedoms. Following Hussein’s fall, instigated by US forces in 2003, the Islamic Dawa party gained governmental power in Iraq. Rather than inciting liberal change the newfound government rejected Western values. The co-founder of IRAP(Iraqi Refugees Assistance Project), Becca Heller has stated that by 2007 a “campaign to hunt, arrest, torture and kill everyone perceived as gay” was organized and enacted.
According to a 2009 report by Human Rights Watch some of the victims were murdered by their relatives in what are deemed “honour killings.” The majority, however, were killed by militia organizations. Heller has claimed that such groups believe that gay men and women do not have the right to live and target individuals that “seem gay.” Such a designation are placed upon those that are dressed in a Western fashion style and do not match the traditional religious perception of an Iraqi citizen. Simply by dressing in contrast to the norm can put an individual in danger.
Adding to this horror is the government’s involvement. Although the Iraqi government refuses to acknowledge or take responsibility for the issue GayAsylumUK has confirmed that Iraqi authorities are an integral aspect in this extermination. The group claims that the government arrests individuals of the LGBTQ community only to then give them over to murderous militia groups. Complicating the issue is the fact that in Iraq one can work as a policeman and also partake in militia initiatives by night, as told in the BBC’s investigation. A muddled distinction between government employees and militia members has made it convenient for the government to shift the onus of blame. Further implicating the government in the issue is Dr Toby Dodge, of London University’s Queen Mary College, who believes that "Militia groups whose raison d’être was security in their communities are seeing that function now fulfilled by the police. So their focus has shifted to the moral and cultural sphere.” LGBT groups working inside Iraq, such as the London based Iraq LGBT, have also stated that militias are receiving information directly from the Ministry of the Interior regarding the identities of sexual minorities.
Certain groups have also used technological strategies to catalyze the search for LGBT individuals. In an interview with The Guardian, Abu Hamizi, a resident of Iraq, has admitted to spending at least six hours a day on the internet searching gay-related chatrooms in search of targets. Hamizi believes that "It is the easiest way to find those people who are destroying Islam and who want to dirty the reputation we took centuries to build up." After locating individuals Hamizi then coordinates for them to then be attacked or killed. Technology and government resources are both being used to exterminate the Iraqi gay population.
Despite the growing number of causalities little has been done to aid the LGBT community by governmental international organizations. International digital LGBT activists All Out recounted that “after a landmark speech by the Secretary General of the UN affirming LGBT rights, the Iraqi government and other homophobic states staged a protest and actually walked out of the meeting.” The lack of action from the UN against this public display of homophobia has made it so that such countries feel justified in their actions against the gay community, according to All Out.
Fortunately for those assaulted in Iraq, humanitarian groups, such as All Out and IRAP, have taken a firm stance against the persecution of LGBT individuals in the country. Among them is IraqLGBT, the first Arabic gay rights organization in the world. Created in September 2005 by Ali Hili the group has made great efforts in order to safeguard those targeted by violent militias in Iraq. The group has managed to provide counseling, monetary and mental aid, shelter and even methods of escaping the country to gay citizens of Iraq. A major project of IraqLGBT is the maintenance of safe houses to allow a haven for the queer community. However, as a representative told the BBC, due to raids and lack of funds a majority of these safe houses have been shut down and the group cannot afford to open new ones. A major lack of funding and international recognition has limited the amount of help that IraqLGBT and other like groups can offer to at risk gay Iraqis.
But safehouses and protests are only temporary solutions to what is a serious issue. Representatives of both IraqLGBT and AllOut have stated that international awareness and involvement must occur before change can be made. Speaking to the BBC, IraqLGBT posited that “Unless the international community steps in to help and to put pressure on the Iraqi government, many more men and women will die. If this is ever to change, Iraq’s gay men and women also need international attention and support.” In a similar vein AllOut has called upon the average citizen from any nation to take action, stating: “If enough of us take a stand now, we can raise this issue to the highest levels, and create popular and diplomatic pressure that pushes the Iraqi government to investigate these appalling crimes.” To incite change and end the violence towards the gay men and women of Iraq the international community must take action.