Since the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 life for Bagdad’s gay population has gone from bad to worse. Human Rights Watch estimates that hundreds if not thousands of gay men and women, and people suspected of being gay, have been murdered by religious extremists in the city. Reports (please see the BBC documentary below) indicate that it is not just religious extremists involved in a campaign of genocide and rape against gay people but the government and police as well. As world attention shifts to other more pressing realities in Iran and the on-going complexities in Palestine the difficulties faced by gays and lesbians living in Bagdad often goes under-reported, if reported at all.
Bagdad has never been more dangerous for gay people than it is now. During the Ba’athist regime and subsequently during the reign of Saddam Hussein gays and lesbians were more or less tolerated. The 1969 Criminal code made no reference to homosexuality and people were generally allowed to do what they wanted to do in the privacy of their own home, sexually speaking. This status continued during Hussein’s dictatorship. He reportedly even used a network of gay spies whose main function was to sleep with gay foreign diplomats in an effort to extract information from them.
After the invasion everything changed. As life became intolerable for everyone gays and lesbians in particular were singled out by the savage religious militias who began murderous campaigns against anyone who threatened their twisted vision for the future of Iraq. The reasoning behind targeting gays and lesbians appears to have been that homosexuality was a western import and was destroying the country. The reality however is probably pure hatred manifested in a divide and conquer strategy by religious militias in an effort to gain power and control.
Sadr city, the vast Shiite slum that saw some of the worst fighting and bombings in the early stage of the invasion, is ground zero for gay murders in Bagdad. Moktada al-Sadr, the cleric Mahdi army militia leader, has instigated an unrelenting campaign of fear and murder on the city’s gay community. While in the early years of the invasion the gay community was targeted by this religious thug he really stepped up his evil campaign after the American surge at the end of 2008. As people began to feel a little bit safer nightlife resumed and the gay community began to be a little more visible than it had been in previous years. The Mahdi army began to execute anyone suspected of being gay and issued lists of people who m they intended to kill. Those who could flee Sadr city did. The targeting and murdering continues to this day of those who could not leave.
The following documentary from the BBC illustrates the impossible life gay and lesbian people suffer living in Baghdad It also uncovers evidence that the authorities are complicit in the killings and brutal rape of gay Iraqis.