U.S. Troops to Blame for Persecution of Gays in Iraq?
Some things were better off under Saddam, like gay rights,Cara Buckley reports from Baghdad Tuesday ("Gays Living In Shadows of New Iraq - Violence Replaces Tacit Acceptance").
"In a city and country where outsiders are viewed with deep suspicion and attracting attention can imperil one's life, Mohammed could never blend in, even if he wanted to.
"Mohammed, 37, has been openly gay for much of his adult life. For him, this has meant growing his hair long and taking estrogen. In the past, he said, that held little danger. As is true throughout the Middle East, men have always been publicly affectionate here.
"But, at least until recently, Mohammed and many of his gay friends went one step further, slipping into lovers' houses late at night. And, until the American invasion, they said, Iraqi society had quietly accepted them.
"But being openly gay is not an option in the new Iraq, where the rise of religious extremism has left Mohammed and his gay friends feeling especially vilified.
"In January, a United Nations report described the increased persecution, torture and extrajudicial killing of Iraqi lesbians and gay men. In 2005, Iraq's most revered Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, issued a fatwa, or religious decree, calling for gay men and lesbians to be killed in the 'worst, most severe way.'"
"It is impossible to say how many gay men and women face persecution in Iraq. According to an Iraqi gay rights group, run by a former disc jockey in Baghdad named Ali Hili who now lives in London, 400 people have been killed in Iraq since 2003 for being gay.
"Set against the many thousands of civilians and soldiers killed in the war, the number is small. But for Mr. Hili, and Mohammed and his friends, it is a painful barometer of just how far Iraq has shifted from its secular past.
"For a brief, exhilarating time, from the mid-1980s until the early 1990s, they say, gay night life flourished in Iraq. Whereas neighboring Iran turned inward after its Islamic revolution in 1979, Baghdad allowed a measure of liberation after the end of the Iran-Iraq war.
"Then came the Persian Gulf war, and afterward Saddam Hussein put an end to nightclubs. Iraq staggered under the yoke of economic sanctions. While antigay laws were increasingly enforced, Mohammed and Mr. Hili said they still felt safe. Homosexuality seemed accepted, as long as it was practiced in private. And even when it was not tolerated, prison time could be evaded with a well-placed bribe.
"The American invasion was expected to usher in better times.
"'We thought that with the presence of Americans, life would become paradise, that Iraq would be Westernized,' Mohammed said. 'But unfortunately the way things were before was so much better than where we are now.'"
Buckley then brought up an unrelated anecdote, as if to hint that U.S. troops who allegedly engaged in crude sexual humor were part of the patternof the violent anti-gay persecution of Iraqi gays by other Iraqis.
"One night shortly after Saddam Hussein fell, American soldiers burst into the apartment that Mohammed shared with his two brothers. They were looking for insurgents, but took one look at Mohammed, with his long hair and shapely body wrapped in a robe, and teased him, he said.
"'What are you, a lady man?' he remembered them barking. 'A boy? Or a girl?' They turned to one of Mohammed's brothers, 'Who is this?' they asked, 'Your girlfriend?'
"The news raced through Mohammed's building. 'All my neighbors came to know that I was gay,' he said. 'My brother said, "Mohammed, leave the house; you can't live here anymore."'