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Thursday, June 08, 2006

U.S. military acknowledges Iraq anti-gay killings

Exiled leader claims troops involved in Baghdad gay harassment

By LOU CHIBBARO JR. 7 Jun 2006

The U.S. military is aware of a rash of anti-gay killings in Iraq during the past eight months and is taking steps to curtail sectarian violence against all Iraqis, including gays, according to a spokesperson for the U.S.-led multinational forces in Iraq.

At least three men suspected of being gay were gunned down March 20 in the Iraqi city of Ramadi. U.S. forces say they are concerned about the rising number of anti-gay killings in Iraq. (Photo by Bilal Hussein/AP)
"If someone is in danger of being slaughtered or persecuted, we do all we can to stop it," said Army Maj. Joseph Todd Breasseale, chief of the Media Relations Division of the Multinational Corps in Iraq.

Breasseale spoke by telephone from his office at U.S. military headquarters in a section of Baghdad known as the Green Zone.

Faced with a highly volatile atmosphere brought about by warring Islamic factions, the U.S. and its coalition allies must use caution in addressing the issue of homosexuality, Breasseale said.

"It doesn't make a whole lot of sense, when we're in a fledgling time like this, to go in and say, 'Here's these issues that are going to repel 80 percent of the population and this is what we want to inflict on you,'" he said. "We're trying not to get into too many values judgment type issues and just do the right thing."

Breasseale's comments came in response to questions about how the U.S. was responding to a decision last October by a powerful Islamic leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, to issue a fatwa calling for the killing of gays in Iraq. Bush administration officials have cited al-Sistani as a moderate voice among Iraqi Shiites.

Islam considers homosexuality sinful. A website published in the Iranian city of Qom in the name of Sistani, says: "Those who commit sodomy must be killed in the harshest way," according to BBC news reports. The statement appeared in an Arabic section of the website dealing with questions of morality, but not in the English-language equivalent.

A network of gay Iraqi exiles in Europe reported that the fatwa triggered a flurry of assassinations, kidnappings and death threats against Iraqi gays.

Ali Hili, founder and spokesperson for the exile group LGBT Iraqis U.K., said Islamic death squads came to life in response to Sistani's fatwa and brought about an atmosphere of terror among gays. He said some death squad members arranged meetings with gays through chat rooms by posing as gays themselves, then captured and sometimes assaulted or killed their targeted victims.

A call for action

International human rights groups, including the U.S.-based International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission, complained that the U.S. and its coalition partners in Iraq did not appear to be taking any action to stop the anti-gay killings.

In a May 11 letter to IGLHRC executive director Paula Ettelbrick, a State Department official said the American government was troubled over reports of violence against gays in Iraq and said the U.S. embassy in Baghdad would meet with gay rights groups to address the problem.

The letter came in response to a letter from IGLHRC calling on the State Department to speak out against the anti-gay killings in Iraq.

Breasseale's comments mark the first time a U.S. military spokesperson in Iraq has publicly discussed the anti-gay killings there.

"The problem is it's such a widespread [and] concerted effort of violence against so many disparate groups and organizations," Breasseale said. "It's essentially anyone who runs afoul of anyone who has a mind to do it winds up getting killed. So we're very much aware of it, and we take both the murders and the political assassinations very seriously.

"When it's possible, we work to investigate and try to track down who did it. But as you can imagine, it's a massive, massive concerted effort we're up against."

Claims of anti-gay abuse by U.S. military denied

Breasseale's telephone interview comes shortly after American military authorities disclosed they were investigating allegations that a Marine Corps unit intentionally shot and killed 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha, a rural farming town in the Upper Euphrates Valley.

Hili, the head of the gay Iraqi exile group in London, alleged that in two cases, U.S. soldiers verbally abused and, in one case, assaulted gay Iraqis during routine searches of houses in Baghdad. In yet another incident, Hili said he learned through contacts in Iraq that a gay Iraqi was killed by one of the death squads after U.S. officials refused his request to gain access to the Green Zone for protection.

"We try to attack these issues as they come up, and all accusations of misbehavior that is attributed to bigotry are taken very seriously," Breasseale said in discussing Hili's reports of abuse against gay Iraqis by U.S. soldiers.

Breasseale called on Hili to provide more details about the incidents, such as dates, locations, and descriptions of the soldiers involved.

"All I can do at this point is reassure your readers that these allegations are taken very seriously, and that our soldiers — the vast 99.9 percent of them — do their jobs with honor and integrity day in and day out in what is easily one of the world's most grueling situations," Breasseale said. "And I can assure your readers that when allegations pan out, service members and their leadership are held accountable," he said.


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