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die Tageszeitung, Germany

A Pogrom in Installments:
Gays in Iraq

By Martin Reichert

Translated By Ron Argentati

13 August 2010

Edited by Piotr Bielinski

Germany - die Tageszeitung - Original Article (German)

In Iraq, gay men and lesbians can survive only if they remain invisible. The scheduled withdrawal of American troops is causing great fear in the Iraqi gay community.

John is a gay Iraqi. He was able to return to Iraq from exile in London a few years ago to work as a teacher in Erbil because of the presence of U.S. occupation forces. John is married and has two children — as are almost all gay men in Iraq who have lived past the age of thirty.

John came to meet with German journalists in order to make sure it was safe to invite his gay friends with him. Photographs are not allowed, no real names are used, biographies have to be doctored — these are the conditions. It was just recently that a gay man from Baghdad was pictured in an Australian magazine, only to die in a hail of bullets a short time afterward.

Now, since American forces are withdrawing — 90,000 of the 146,000 previously stationed troops will begin leaving at the end of August and the remaining 50,000 will depart next year — John, thanks to his British passport, will return to Europe. But his gay friends are not as fortunate and they fear for a future that will bring chaos and possibly civil war. They also fear an Iraqi government that in the future will not be able or willing to protect them.

Gay men and lesbians in Erbil run the risk of being persecuted and slaughtered by Islamic militias. Since 2005, Amnesty International has documented 500 such cases nationwide. It’s a pogrom in installments.

John says no one in Erbil will be arrested as long as they are not caught. He adds that the government is aware of their presence, but that they have thus far been left alone. Yet two months ago one of John’s friends was murdered by his own nephew after his secret was leaked. John says no one in the gay community feels safe and that no one will out himself as long as people adhere to Islam and its traditional beliefs.

Baghdad in the 1990s under Saddam Hussein was also ultra-conservative; alcohol was forbidden and bars were shut down. But the danger for gay men and lesbians really only began during the security vacuum that appeared after Saddam was toppled, principally due to the rise of militias that gradually took over the job of guarding public morals — a job that should have been the responsibility of the Iraqi police. These militias set bounties on gay men and lesbians, amputate their genitals and sodomize them with hot coals or broom handles. Young militants lurk on gay-community Internet forums, arrange meetings with gay individuals and then murder them.

In the autonomous Kurdistan region, gays “only” need be in deadly fear of their own families. Here, honor killings take place. They do not show up in the statistics and are punished less stringently by the courts. One year of detention — it was all about the family’s honor, after all. While honor killings of Kurdish women are no longer officially legal, they may still be applied to lesbians. And despite the flood of “gender mainstreaming” brought to the region by the international community, they are highly likely to remain so.

The Green Party’s Claudia Roth recently made a quick visit to Erbil, but did not broach the subject of homosexuality. According to Oliver Schnackenberg, Germany's consul general in Iraq's Kurdistan region, the subject only arose in the overall context of human rights: “There is no tradition of human rights in Iraq; even the occupation forces mainly concentrated their efforts on ensuring security. People here are afraid of dying in terrorist attacks,” he explained. But what else can he say? The United States itself has not expressed any concern for gay men, lesbians or the trans-gendered in Iraq. Perhaps it is still too early? For many of them it is far too late.



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