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Last Updated: Monday, 17 April 2006, 12:35 GMT 13:35 UK
Gay Iraqis fear for their lives
By Michael McDonough
BBC News website

Hussein says he is afraid to go outdoors
"I don't want to be gay anymore. When I go out to buy bread, I'm afraid. When the doorbell rings, I think that they have come for me."

That is the fear that haunts Hussein, and other gay men in Iraq.

They say that since the US-led invasion, gay people are being killed because of their sexual orientation.

They blame the increase in violence on the growing influence of religious figures and militia groups in Iraq since Saddam Hussein was ousted.

Islam considers homosexuality sinful. A website published in the Iranian city of Qom in the name of Ayatollah Sistani, Iraq's most revered Shia cleric, says: "Those who commit sodomy must be killed in the harshest way".

Ayatollah Sistani
Sistani's official website calls for gay men to be executed
The statement appears in Arabic section of the website, in a section dealing with questions of morality, but not in the English-language equivalent.

The BBC asked Mr Sistani's representative, Seyed Kashmiri, to explain the ruling.

"Homosexuals and lesbians are not killed for practising their inclinations for the first time," Mr Kashmiri said in a response sent via email.

"There are certain conditions drawn out by jurists before this punishment can be implemented, which is perhaps similar to the punishment meted out by other heavenly religions."

Mr Kashmiri added: "Some rulings that are drawn out by jurists are done so on a theoretical basis. Not everything that is said is implemented."

Violent attacks

Killings and kidnappings are widespread in Iraq, with much of the bloodshed being linked to sectarian tensions and the anti-US insurgency.

Dina - a transsexual killed in Baghdad in 2005
Dina, a transsexual, was killed in Baghdad last year

But homosexual Iraqis who have spoken to the BBC say they are also being targeted because of their sexual orientation.

Hussein is 32 and lives in Baghdad with his brother, sister-in-law and nieces.

He says his effeminate appearance and demeanour make him stand out and attract hostility.

"My brother's friends told him: 'In the current chaos you could get away with killing your brother without retribution and get rid of this shame,'" Hussein said, after agreeing to speak to the BBC only if his real name was not used.

A transsexual friend of his, who had changed names from Haydar to Dina, was killed on her way to a party in Baghdad about six months ago, Hussein said.

Gym terror

Ahmed is a 31-year-old interior decorator who used to live in Baghdad with his boyfriend, Mazin.

Ahmed fled to Jordan nine months ago after Mazin was murdered outside a gym.

I fled from Iraq because of the threat to my life

After his partner was shot dead, Ahmed hid in the gym toilets then slipped away and later flew to Amman, the Jordanian capital.

He says it was well known that they were a couple and Mazin was targeted because of his sexuality.

"I fled from Iraq because of the threat to my life, because I was a gay man," he told the BBC.

Ahmed also said that, before the gym shooting, he and a gay friend had survived a grenade attack and he still had fragments of shrapnel in his face.

The friend was killed a week later by gunmen who raided his house, he added.

Powerful militia

Iraq's deputy interior minister Maj Gen Hussein Kamal told the BBC that he was unaware of any minority groups being specifically targeted for kidnappings and killings.

He also said he was unaware of the statement on Ayatollah Sistani's website calling for gay people to be killed.

But he added: "We do not condone vigilante action. We encourage the victims to inform the authorities if they are subjected to any attacks."

However, Hussein says gay people are afraid of the police.

The Interior Ministry is run by members of Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri), which is one of Iraq's country's leading Shia parties.

Sciri has its own militia, the Badr Brigades, and there are widespread concerns that large parts of Iraq's police force are under the control of such groups.

Hussein blames the Badr Brigades and other Shia militia for many of the attacks on gay Iraqis.

Saddam was a tyrant, but at least we had more freedom then

Human rights group Amnesty International has focused most of its work in Iraq on the high levels of violence linked to the insurgency.

The organisation said it had no information on reports of anti-gay activities in the country.

"It is not an area that we have been actively looking at, but that is not to say that we will not look into the issue at some point," said a spokesman at the group's London headquarters.

But Hussein, Ahmed and gay activists outside Iraq say there is clear evidence that the situation has deteriorated dramatically for Iraqi homosexuals.

"Saddam was a tyrant, but at least we had more freedom then," said Hussein. "Nowadays, gay men are just killed for no reason."

Arabic interviews by Muhayman Jamil

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