LGBT+ people have had a long history of abuse and discrimination in Iraq, however, conditions have started to get worsen with the raise of the pride flag in the capital of Iraq at Baghdad by the EU alongside the British and Canadian embassies.
On May 17, the aforementioned parties raised the pride flag associated with the LGBT+ community in Baghdad, and posted an update about it through their social media platforms. The caption of the post read: “in partnership with the Canadian embassy and the British embassy in Iraq, we join today (Sunday) in Baghdad European Union missions around the world in raising the rainbow flag to celebrate the World Day against homophobia [sic] and sexual transformation and highlighting the rights of LGBT / gay and bisexual / transgender people.”
This quickly caused an outrage within the Iraqi community as the Iraqi officials reposted and retweeted the content with messages of hate and condemnation directed at the EU and the LGBT+ community of Iraq. One of the most known and influential public figures and politicians of Iraq, Muqtada al-Sadr, is highly homophobic and has influenced acts of hate against LGBT+ people many times, who was also one of the officials that condemned the act.
After the events which took place on May 17, Muqtada al-Sadr has tweeted multiple paragraphs of texts via images that condemn the EU and claim that homosexuality is abnormal and against Islamic beliefs and Iraqi culture. On the tweets, he claims that people that support marriage equality and are in favor of legalizations of same-sex marriage, have forgotten “two critical things”, listing them as “1) making a family, 2) friendship and brotherhood”, he claims that people that support LGBT+ rights are in favor of abolishing families and want to replace “friendship and brotherhood” with “sexual desire and lust.” He also said that (the west) might someday even normalize marriage between members of first cirlce family members, and went as far as tying homosexuality with incest.
The tweets give the impression that homosexuality stands for love between family members, that someday “fathers marry their own sons, mothers marry their own daughters, [hence the transformation of an] ‘innocent love’ into lust.” He then continues the tweet, “this in itself butchers the structure of families and it’s social statuses, as they say, family is the center of society, messing up family structures is also messing up society, which has been accomplished to a certain extent in western countries.”
The tweets continue: “in older times, male/male and female/female relations were only about friendship, and only male/female relations ended as marriage, but now they all end with marriage, and this is a symbol of abolishment of friendship in society.” Near the ending of his paragraphs, he states: “since you did not establish any limits based on [critical thinking], religion, or any other social beliefs, we request you to establish laws for freedom, so you won’t legalize murder in the future [under the name of freedom, …]”
This is only part of a series of tweets. On another tweet, he preaches to the public that the EU and the west are trying to spread immorality and acts that are against Iraqi culture and beliefs. He starts his tweet, “in the name of God”, he continues. “We warned you, that this is an attempt by the west to spread disbelief and horrid habits into the Muslim cultures. In this month of Ramadan, at this time [pandemic of COVID-19] which caught all the world, ambassadors of Europe and British and Canadian embassies are raising the flags of the sexually defects (Paraphilia). We believe that these are a group of mentally ill individuals that need treatment and blessings, we won’t let [you] attack the holy religions, not only Islam, but all holy religions.”
He continues the tweet, “this immorality has been condemnded by the prophets of God, peace be upon them, and we walk on the same path as theirs and we won’t let immorality and sins spread in our community. We are currently awaiting the steps the Iraqi Government will take regarding this attack and gross crime against our faith, law, and beliefs of Iraqi society, which needs a great backlash and the parliament to prosecute those who participated in carrying out this gross act, make them apologize and make them promise not to do this thing again. Our leaders have sent a formal message which has been written in a very tough and agressive tone to the ambassador of the EU, and I am warning you if we stay quiet, this disease will further spread. So beg God and don’t commit sins.”
In the last paragraph, Muqtada al-Sadir is clearly calling on the public and summoning everyone to take action to stop the “spread” of homosexuality. This has caused the public to feel further outraged by the situation and have resorted to violence against LGBT+ people and a crackdown has begun to find them and murder them. However, this has not been the only call to start a hate campaign. On a broadcasted footage to national TV, a group of people are walking over LGBT+ flags and condemning the community and proclaim as though they are abnormal or homosexuality is some sort of disease.
The video starts with steps of people walking over a placard written “no homosexuals exist in our country.”
The man says: “an announcement from Sheikhs and noblemen of Hartha district against this criminal action that western embassies did. The aim of this action is to humiliate Iraqi sons and to offend all Arab & Muslim people. This is against the future generations that their history proved that they are struggling people.”
“The people who built civilizations and founded values, formed law and built societies that still exist and invading countries are attacking it like dogs. In this great Ramadan month we insist on deny stand against all western steps that aim to demolish the foundations of Iraqi principles, young and men, tries to stop the wave of true Islamic steps that we are trying to build Iraq after the failure of all others in the past.”
On a live interview, Amir Ashour, executive director of IraQueer, which is also a gay rights advocasy organization, was interviewed regarding the situation. During the closing segment, the interviewer asked Mr. Amir to state his final words regarding the matter. Mr. Amir responded that the LGBT+ just want to be protected and not killed, and that hurting them is a crime committed against them. The interviewer then attacked Mr. Amir and then said “you (the LGBT+) are the criminals, that’s what society thinks. Regardless if it’s a crime or not, society believes that you are [the abnormal ones and the criminals].”
As mentioned before, all these attacks on the community have sparked violence from extremists, terrorists, criminals, and homophobes against members of the LGBT+ community, or even people that are not from the community but have suspicion of being gay. Since May 17, six young LGBT+ members have lost their lives. In a video that’s been circulating online, a group of militia are gathering concrete blocks and are threatening to crush anyone’s skull who is gay.
An insurgence of discrimination, violence, and hate has spread around other cities and communities surrounding Baghdad as well. In the area of al-Sadr at the East of Baghdad, a gay person has been killed and a piece of paper with the following message has been left along with his dead body. The message read: “Warning message. To the native Iraqi families, you have to [prevent] your sons and daughters from committing Paraphilia and homosexuality.”
A picture of another gay person has been posted across social media, who have seemingly been killed inside the shotgun of a car, with bricks lying around him and him fallen dead across the surface of the car. These murders have taken place based on real or perceived sexual orientations of the individuals. Anyone who “looks gay” is a target regardless if they are truly gay or not.
A rise of extremists and “digital jihadists” have been documented across social media after the hate speech of Iraqi officials such as Muqtada al-Sadr and other notable Iraqi figures. They have announced a hate campaign against LGBT+ people. They are surfing the web to find them, they flooded Grindr (a gay dating app) and try to get the users to reveal their identities in order to expose them, or try to meet them so they can murder them. They are doing the same thing on both Facebook and Instagram. They are checking who liked posts made by Iraqi-based LGBT+ organizations or groups, add them, then start messaging them to get them to reveal their identity and then out them and call militias to murder them. They will be labeled as heroes, anyone who participated in this hate campaign.
We have had multiple emails, tweets, messages, and calls to our organization from members of the community in the south of Iraq pleading to us to help them and do an arrangement to get them out of the country or transport them to the Kurdistan region for safety.