Hasan Sabeh was a happy, talented 34 year old a transgender fashion designer, affectionately known as Tamara. He lived in the al-Mansor district of Baghdad. In January 2007, he was tending his fashion accessories stall in a street market. An Islamist death squad, wearing Iraqi police uniforms, seized Tamara, partially stripped his clothes off and, discovering that he was a man dressed as a woman, shot him dead. Tamara’s brother-in-law was nearby and rushed to cradle his body. He, too, was shot dead at point blank range. The killers then took Tamara’s body, hanged it in public, and mutilated it, as a warning to other gay and transgender Iraqis.
Late last year, five gay activists were abducted at gun-point by Iraqi police in Baghdad on 9 November. Nothing has been heard of them since then. It is feared they may have been murdered by death squads operating under the cover of the Iraqi police.
The kidnapped men are Amjad 27, Rafid 29, Hassan 24, Ayman 19 and Ali 21. All were members of Iraq’s clandestine gay rights movement, Iraqi LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender).
“For the last few months they had been documenting the killing of lesbians and gays, relaying details of homophobic executions to our office in London, and providing safe houses and support to queers fleeing the death squads,” said Ali Hili, a gay Iraqi Muslim who is head of Iraqi LGBT and Middle East spokesperson for the British gay human rights group OutRage!
At the time of the police raid, the five men were holding a secret meeting in a safe house in the al-Shaab district of Baghdad. They were communicating with Mr Hili.
“Suddenly there was a lot of noise, then the connection ended,” recalls Mr Hili.
Just days after these five activists were abducted, Haydar Kamel, aged 35, the owner of famous men’s clothing shop in the al-Karada district of Baghdad, was kidnapped near his home in Sadr city. The kidnappers were members of the Mahdi army, an Islamist militia loyal to fundamentalist leader Muqtada al-Sadr.
“Haydar had previously received death threats because of rumours about his alleged homosexuality. For many months, he had financially supported several men who were in hiding after they had been threatened by death squads because of claims that they were gay,” said Mr Hili.
Another recent raid was on the Jar al-Qamar barber shop in the al-Karada district of Baghdad. It was popular with gay men, which is probably the reason it was targeted. All four employees were arrested and taken away by the Iraqi police. They have disappeared.
It is feared that these 10 kidnapped men have been summarily executed.
“These disappearances are the latest ‘sexual cleansing’ operations mounted by extremist Islamist death squads, many of whom have infiltrated the Iraqi police,” notes Mr Hili. He has obtained details of the kidnappings direct by phone and email from his underground Iraqi LGBT activist colleagues in Baghdad.
“They are systematically targeting gays and lesbians for extra-judicial execution, as part of their so-called moral purification campaign. The aim of the death squads is the creation of a fundamentalist state, along the lines of the religious dictatorship in Iran,” said Mr Hili.
Earlier, in June this year, extreme lslamist death squads burst into the home of two lesbians in the city of Najaf. They shot them dead, slashed their throats, and also murdered a young child the lesbians had rescued from the sex trade.
The two women, both in their mid-30s, were members of Iraqi LGBT. They were providing a safe house for gay men on the run from death squads. By sheer luck, none of the men being given shelter in the house were at home when the assassins struck. They have now fled to Baghdad and are hiding in an Iraqi LGBT safe house in the suburbs.
“These homophobic kidnappings and murders are a snapshot of the rapidly growing power and menace of fundamentalist death squads,” added Mr Hili.
“Gays are not their only targets. They enforce a harsh interpretation of Sharia law, summarily executing people for listening to western pop music, wearing shorts or jeans, drinking alcohol, selling videos, working in a barber’s shop, homosexuality, dancing, having a Sunni name, adultery and, in the case of women, not being veiled or walking in the street unaccompanied by a male relative.
“Two militias are doing most of the killing. They are the armed wings of parties in the Bush and Blair-backed Iraqi government. Badr is the militia of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which is the leading political force in Baghdad’s government coalition. Madhi is the militia of Muqtada al-Sadr.
“Both militias want to establish an Iranian-style clerical tyranny. They have a perverted, corrupt and violent misinterpretation of Islam.
“The allied occupation of Iraq is bad enough. But victory for the Madhi or Badr militias would result in a reign of religious terror many times worse.
“The execution of lesbian and gay Iraqis by extreme Islamist death squads and militias is symptomatic of the fate that will befall all Iraqis if the fundamentalists continue to gain influence. The summary execution of queers is a warning of the barbarism to come.
“Saddam Hussein was a tyrant. It is good that he is no longer in power. I don’t want him back. But under Saddam discrete homosexuality was usually tolerated. There was no danger of gay people being assassinated in the street by religious fanatics.
“Since Saddam’s overthrow, the violent persecution of lesbians and gays is commonplace. It is actively encouraged by Iraq’s leading Muslim cleric, the British and US-backed Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. In late 2005, he issued a fatwa ordering the execution of gay Iraqis. His followers in the extreme Islamist militias are now systematically assassinating lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people,” said Mr Hili.
“Despite the great danger involved, Iraqi LGBT has established a clandestine network of gay activists inside Iraq’s major cities, including Baghdad, Najaf, Karbala, Hilla and Basra,” said Peter Tatchell of the UK-based LGBT rights group OutRage!, which is working with Iraqi LGBT.
“These courageous activists are helping gay people on the run from fundamentalist death squads; hiding them in safe houses in Baghdad, and helping them escape to Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.
“The world ignores the fate of gay Iraqis at its peril. Their fate today is the fate of all Iraqis tomorrow,” said Mr Tatchell.