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Thursday, May 25, 2006

U.S State Dept. ‘troubled’ over anti-gay violence in Iraq (Gay)

U.S. embassy in Baghdad willing to meet with gay groups

25 May 2006

The U.S. State Department said it is “troubled” by reports of increased violence against gays in Iraq and said the U.S. embassy in Baghdad is interested in meeting with gay rights groups to address the problem.

The Bush administration announcement came in response to a request by the U.S. based International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice condemn a rash of anti-gay killings in Iraq and to “ask that U.S. military and civilian personnel in Iraq call these abuses to the attention of Iraqi authorities.”
In an April 20 letter to Rice, Paula Ettelbrick, IGLHRC executive director, urged Rice to “demand a response” from the Iraqi authorities over the anti-gay killings.

In a May 11 reply to Ettelbrick’s letter, L. Victor Hurtado, acting director of the State Department’s Office of Iraq Affairs, said the U.S. is working with the Iraqi government to promote the protection of human rights.

“We are very troubled by these reported incidents of threats, violence, executions, and other violations of humanitarian law against members of the gay and lesbian community in Iraq,” Hurtado said in his letter.

Hurtado said the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad “is interested in further dialogue on this issue” with non-governmental groups, including the Iraq-based group Rainbow for Life, which monitors human rights abuses against gays.

Lt. Col. Barry Venable, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Defense, told the Blade last week that reports of killings of Iraqi gays come at a time when other Iraqi groups are being targeted for assassinations and kidnappings. Among them, he said, are college professors, doctors and owners of liquor stores.

“We try to stop killings and assassinations regardless of the motive,” Venable said. “Violence is violence. We want to see it reduced and eliminated.”
A spokesperson for the Iraqi Embassy to the United States in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.

Violence linked to fatwa

A London-based group of exiled gay Iraqis took credit last week for pressuring a powerful Islamic leader into removing from his website a fatwa calling for the killing of gays in Iraq.

“They didn’t expect a gay rights group could challenge their religious authority, and we succeeded in doing that,” Ali Hili, founder and spokesperson for LGBT Iraqis U.K., said in a telephone interview from London.

But Hili’s group quickly discovered that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, while removing the announcement of the fatwa from his website, did not revoke the death order itself. Sistani also chose to leave on the site a clause in the fatwa that targets lesbians.

“Conditions are still very bad for gays and lesbians in my country,” Hili said.
Hili’s claims about the removal of the fatwa and his organization’s role in that decision could not be independently confirmed.

The fatwa — which Sistani issued last October — declared that all people “involved” in homosexuality “should be killed in the worst, most severe way of killing.”
Hili said it was too soon to determine whether Sistani’s decision to remove the fatwa announcement from Sistani’s widely read, Arabic language website would curtail a rash of death threats, kidnappings and assassinations of gay Iraqis. The killings increased sharply toward the end of last year, he claimed.

Death squads formed by Shiite Islamic militias have used Internet chat rooms established by gay Iraqis to arrange to meet gays in Baghdad and other cities, Hili said. In some cases the unsuspecting gays ensnared by this tactic have been abducted and shot to death, he said.
Gay Iraqis who have fled their country because of the threats have told gay rights groups in Europe that conditions had gotten so bad that entire categories of men — including unmarried men older than 30, anyone perceived as being effeminate or involved in the arts, and men with longer hair — have come under suspicion of being gay and are targets for death threats.
The Bush administration, while condemning Islamic clerics for threatening to execute a citizen of Afghanistan for converting to Christianity earlier this year, had remained silent over the anti-gay killings in Iraq.

However, during the past week, an official with the State Department and a spokesperson for the Pentagon said U.S. authorities in Iraq were troubled over a rash of assassinations and kidnappings waged by insurgents and Islamic militias against people in all segments of Iraqi society, including gays.

Hili said vague assurances by U.S. and British officials that they oppose violent acts against the Iraqi people have had little impact on the plight of Iraqi gays.
He said gay Iraqis have told his group through telephone and e-mail conversations that U.S. military officials repeatedly have turned down pleas for help by gays who show up at the U.S. military headquarters in the Green Zone in Baghdad.

“One guy went there and said, ‘I’m receiving death threats from the militias, please help me,’” Hili said. “They said we can’t help you, we can’t help all Iraqis. And the guy died. He’s been found shot — executed.”
Another call for help
The British gay rights group Outrage has expressed concern that Britain and the United States may be reluctant to condemn Sistani for his anti-gay fatwa because Sistani opposes the Iraqi insurgency and has backed the creation of an elected Iraqi government.
The 77-year-old Sistani has long called for Islamic law to supersede civil law in Iraq, in marked contrast to President Bush’s call for a constitutional form of government that includes the separation of church and state.
U.S. and other coalition nations haven’t challenge Sistani on human rights matters because he is viewed as the spiritual leader of the overwhelming majority of Iraqi Shiites.
Shiites make up the largest number of Iraqis and are expected to dominate the newly elected government.

According to reports by gay Iraqi exiles and others familiar with the turmoil in Iraq, a powerful militia supported by Iran and believed to be under the leadership of Sistani known as the Badr Corps has organized some of the death squads that target gays.

Hili, pointing to Sistani’s ties to Iran, calls him an Iranian “Trojan Horse” who wants to convert Iraq into the same type of “extremist” state that has taken hold in Iran.
He said he is convinced that the radical Islamic forces in Iran that are responsible for widespread executions of gays in that country prompted Sistani to issue his anti-gay fatwa in Iraq.

Hili said Sistani agreed to remove the fatwa from his website in response to pressure from international human rights groups. The pressure began after Hili’s group and others called attention to anti-gay persecution in Iraq.

He said Sistani’s organization opened negotiations with LGBT Iraqis U.K. through long-distance telephone conferences between London and Iraq and Iran, where the Iranian born Sistani has offices.

Hili said Sistani’s representatives expressed concern over allegations on LGBT Iraqis U.K.’s website that Sistani was misusing his religious authority in Iraqi affairs. Hili said his group used the influence his group’s website apparently was having on Sistani as a bargaining chip to seek removal of the fatwa from the Sistani website.

According to Hili, who said he is in contact with a clandestine network of gays in Iraq, at least two other ayatollahs have issued separate fatwas against Iraqi gays in the past several weeks.

A fatwa is a legal opinion or ruling issued by an Islamic scholar.

The immediate urgent priority is to Support and Donate Money to LGBT activists in Iraq in order to assist their efforts to communicate information about the wave of homophobic murders in Iraq to the outside world.

Funds raised will also help provide LGBTs under threat of honour killing with refuge in the safer parts of Iraq (including safe houses and food), and assist efforts help them seek asylum abroad.

Iraqi LGBT UK do not yet have bank account.

We are working closely with the LGBT human rights group OutRage! in London.

Donations to help Iraqi LGBT in the UK and in Iraq should be made payable to "OutRage!",with a cover note marked "For Iraqi LGBT", and sent to :

OutRage!, PO Box17816, London SW14 8WT, England, UK