Targeted by Death Squads: An Escalating Campaign of "Sexual Cleansing" in Iraq Has Led to the Executions of Many Gays and Lesbians. Some Have Managed to Flee. Those Left Behind Hide from Public View

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"Every gay and lesbian here lives in fear, just pure fear, of being beaten or killed," says Ahmad, a 34-year-old gay man, via telephone from his home in Baghdad. "Homosexuality is seen here as imported from the West and as the work of the devil."

Ahmad is masculine and "straight-acting," he says. "I can go out without being harassed or followed." But that's not the case for his more effeminate gay friends. "They just cannot go outside, period," he says. "If they did, they would be killed."

To help them survive, Ahmad has been bringing food and other necessities to their homes. "The situation for us gay people here is beyond bad and dangerous," he says.

Life for gay and lesbian citizens in war-torn Iraq has become grave and is getting worse every day. While President Bush hails a new, "democratic" society, thousands of civilians are dying in a low-level civil war--and gays are being targeted just for being gay. The Badr Corps--the military arm of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI for short), the country's most powerful Shiite political group--has launched a campaign of "sexual cleansing," marshaling death squads to exterminate homosexuality.

When Iraq's chief Shiite cleric, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, removed a fatwa calling for death to gay men from his Web site earlier this year--it wasn't removed for lesbians--some observers thought the antigay reign of terror might end. But the fatwa still remains in effect; indeed, persecution of gay Iraqis has only escalated.

"In the last two months the situation has gotten worse and worse," says Ali Hili, a gay Iraqi living in London, who founded and coordinates the group Iraqi LGBT. "Just last month there were three raids by the Interior Ministry on two of the safe houses we maintain in Basra and Najaf. They were looking for specific names and people, and some of them were killed on the spot."

Hili's group, some 30 gay Iraqi exiles who came together last fall in London in the wake of Sistani's death-to-gays fatwa, has a network of informants and supporters throughout Iraq. With anguish in his voice, he recalls two of them, lesbians who ran a safe house in Najaf that harbored young kids who'd been trapped in the commercial sex trade. "They were accused of running a brothel," he says. "They were slain in the safe house with their throats cut. This was only weeks ago.

"Every day we hear from our network inside Iraq of new horrors happening to our gay and lesbian people--it's overwhelming, we just can't cope," Hili continues. "Look, we're only a little volunteer organization, and nobody helps us--not the American occupier, not the U.N., not Amnesty International, nobody. We're desperate for help."

Through a translator, several gay Iraqis spoke to The Advocate about the dire circumstances for gay people in their country. None wanted their last names printed for fear of reprisals, and all had horrific stories to tell.

Hussein, 32, is a gay man living with his married brother's family in Baghdad. "I've been living in a state of fear for the last year since Ayatollah Sistani issued that fatwa, in which he even encouraged families to kill their sons and brothers if they do not change their gay behavior," he says. "My brother, who has been under pressure and threats from Sistani's followers about me, has threatened to harm me himself, or even kill me, if I show any signs of gayness."

Hussein already lost his job in a photo lab because the shop owner did not want people to think that he was supporting a gay man. "Now I'm very self-conscious about my look and the way I dress--I try to play it safe," says Hussein, who is slightly effeminate. "Several times I was followed in the street and beaten just because I had a nice, cool haircut that looked feminine to them. Now I just shave my head."

Indeed, even the way one dresses is enough to get a gay Iraqi killed. …