Iraq: Out of the Gathering Darkness – Two Iraqi Lesbians, Amal and Zahra, Shot Dead and Decapitated
DNA magazine’s Middle Eastern correspondent Clive Simmons has penned a horrifying account of what LGBT Muslims have to endure in the Middle East and South West Asia. This time, he focuses his attention on the deteriorating situation in Iraq.
In past coverage of this area, I’ve suggested that Moqtadr al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army paramilitary was one of the greatest threats to LGBT safety in Iraq, whose malign influence has led to ‘disappearances,’ mutilations, torture and summary execution of LGBT Iraqis. However, Simmons suggests another pivotal figure in contemporary post-Saddam Iraq has as much influence within contemporary Iraq- Iranian-born Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Despite his strong Iranian ties, the United States has tried to build links with the prominent Shia Muslim religious leader, even if he did seek sanctuary in that neighbouring country when Saddam launched his massive purges and assassinations against independent Shia religious leadership in the eighties and nineties.
Although the United States considers him a peacemaker and reliable ally, al-Sistani is condemned by exiled LGBT Iraqis, who were targeted in one of his fatwas (religious declaration and instruction to the Muslim faithful) shortly after the US-led occupation began in 2004. Ayatollah al-Sistani seems to be pursuing a deliberate programme of ‘social cleansing’ through his brutal “Badr Corps”, another Shia Islamic paramilitary militia, centred in Najaf. What is even more damning for the US-led occupation forces is that they’re either looking the other way, or express vitriolic homophobic abuse when challenged about their apparent toleration of such human rights abuses.
Admittedly, it’s a complicated picture. According to Simmons article, Saddam Hussein’s Mukhbharat (secret police) reguarly recruited young gay Iraqi males to serve as spies against foreign gay businessmen or Iraqi business leaders abroad. However, they were also tortured if they did a bad job of it, or refused to comply. Once Saddam was ousted in 2003, things rapidly deteriorated, given that Iraq had no real experience of a pluralistic and secularised diverse civil society with multiple interest groups and political perspectives before that point.
To be honest, al-Sistani’s Badr Corps don’t only target lesbians and gay men, and after overseas pressure, the Ayatollah’s website has removed the anti-gay fatwa statement, although an anti-lesbian declaration still exists. Indeed, as Simmons details, two Iraqi lesbians, Amal and Zahra, were shot dead and decapitated as a result of their courageous concealment of six gay men, and a child that they had rescued from paedophile sex work.
Amal and Zahra were only two members of Iraq’s underground LGBT network of safe houses, which exists across Iraq, and tries to smuggle out LGBT Iraqis to Syria, Turkey and the European Union. In the latter, they can at least claim sanctuary as asylum seekers from their ordeal. There are other horror stories- in Iraq, regular access to AZT is impossible, and one PLWA safehouse occupant can only rely onintermittent supplies from Syria, subject to $400 bribes paid across the border. One would think that Allah the Merciful and Compassionate would weep at this ordeal for someone who is already dealing with a life-threatening medical condition.
Simmons has other horrifying stories to recount. Jobory, another respondent, was tortured and gang-raped by Moqtadr al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia, who have now been integrated into Iraq’s new Interior Ministry security forces and police. In 2006, the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) harshly condemned the existence of Shia (and Sunni) domestic terrorism against Iraqi LGBTs. Al-Sadr has established Shia religious kangaroo courts in which young and zealous Shia clerics sentence apprehended LGBT Iraqis to whipping and eventual execution. Altogether, expatriate LGBT Iraqi human rights supporters estimate that at least 425 LGBT Iraqis have perished in the last five years.
Clive Simmons: “The New Dark Age” DNA 101 (June 2008): 96-100.