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Iraqi Exile Speaks Out Against the Targeting of Gay Iraqis by Shia Death Squads

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We speak with a gay Iraqi exile about the systematic targeting of gay Iraqis by Shiite death squads in Iraq. The attacks follow a death-to-gays fatwa issued by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani last October. We also speak with independent journalist Doug Ireland who broke the story. [includes rush transcript]

As violence continues on a daily basis on Iraq, President Bush is continuing his media offensive this week. A town-style meeting in West Virginia Wednesday was his latest in five straight days of appearances. The president has repeatedly lauded what he calls the birth of freedom and democracy in Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s oppressive regime.

But yet another story out of the country paints a very different picture.

Shiite death squads in Iraq have been systematically targeting gay Iraqis for persecution and execution. The attacks follow a death-to-gays fatwa issued by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani last October. In a question and answer section of his website, Sistani says homosexuality is “forbidden” and calls for the killing of gays in the “worst, most severe way.”

The story comes in this week’s issue of * Gay City News*. It reports that the Badr Corps have heeded Sistani’s call and have been targeting gay Iraqis. The Badr Corps is the military arm of the Iranian-backed Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a powerful Shia group that is the largest political formation in Iraq’s Shia community.

For more on the story we are joined by Ali Hili, a gay Muslim Iraqi living in exile in Britain. He fled Iraq two years ago. Five months ago he founded the Abu Nawas Group to support persecuted gay Iraqis. He joins us on the line from London. He does not want to expose his face as he has received several death threats. We are also joined by independent journalist Doug Ireland, who broke the story in Gay City News.

  • Ali Hili, a gay Muslim Iraqi living in exile in Britain. He fled Iraq two years ago. Five months ago he founded the Abu Nawas Group to support persecuted gay Iraqis.
  • Doug Ireland, a longtime radical political journalist and media critic. He has been a columnist for The Nation magazine, Village Voice, the New York Observer and the Paris daily Liberation. He is also a contributing editor of POZ, the monthly for the HIV-positive community. He maintains a blog at

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: For more on the story, we are joined by Ali Hili, a gay Muslim Iraqi living in exile in Britain. He fled Iraq two years ago. Five months ago, he founded the Abu Nawas Group to support persecuted gay Iraqis. He joins us on the line from London. He doesn’t want to expose his face, as he’s received several death threats.

We’re also joined on the telephone here in New York by Doug Ireland who broke the story in the Gay City News, a columnist for The Nation magazine, Village Voice and New York Observer for years, also a contributing editor of POZ, the monthly for the HIV-positive community.

Ali Hili, let’s begin with you in London. What exactly do you know? What was your experience in Iraq, and why have you gone into exile?

ALI HILI: Iraq, at the time of Saddam, was — I mean, I’m talking about as a gay Iraqi — it was not as bad as we can see now. In fact, it was a little bit — we have a little bit acceptance. We have little bit of — not too many intimidation. People are really accepting gays, especially in theater, in entertainment and media. We had several actors, singers, which was very popular before. There was no homophobic attitudes toward gay and lesbians. Most of them are welcomed in the community and the society. And people just — we indulgence with the rest of Iraq.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And what has happened in the period since the U.S. occupation?

ALI HILI: Well, we started to receive information, in particular, the last two years, when we made contact with our friends, in particular, my old friends in Baghdad. And horrific, horrific details about, I mean killing, intimidation, harassing, arresting. It’s a very dark age for gays and lesbians and transsexuals and bisexuals in Iraq right now. And the fact that Iraq has been shifted from a secular state into a religious state was completely, completely horrific. We were very modern. We were very, very Western culturalized — Iraq — comparing to the rest of the Middle East. Why it’s been shifted to this Islamic dark ages country?

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us about the fatwa issued by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani? The section on his website that talks about homosexuality is forbidden and calls for the killing of gays in the worst, most severe way.

ALI HILI: Okay. After the killing of one of our colleagues — and his partner has been injured — it alerted us to start to search for orders of killing, and attract our attention al-Sistini’s highest spiritual leader for the Shia in the Middle East. And on his website, we found an order for killing for gay and lesbians. In fact, I’m looking at it right now. ’Til this moment, nothing has been changed since we approached them. We asked them to change it and do something about it. Our sources inside Iraq told us that they used this print and give it, send it to people from this website. So we found it, and we started to do a little campaign here in London with our little group to approach the Iraqi government and the media right now to do something about this killing.

JUAN GONZALEZ: We’re also joined by journalist, Doug Ireland, who broke the story in the Gay City News. Doug, welcome to Democracy Now!

DOUG IRELAND: Good morning, Juan.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, this is a human rights issue that has gotten no attention, absolutely no attention here in the United States. Could you talk about it and what you went over in your article?

DOUG IRELAND: Yes. The organized and systematic kidnapping and assassination of gay people in Iraq has gotten absolutely zero coverage in the United States media. The killings are ongoing. They are almost a daily occurrence. I spoke this past weekend with an underground gay activist in Baghdad, who told me that just in the previous week four gay Iraqis had been found murdered in the usual style, employed by the Badr Corps, which is to say the bodies are discovered with their hands bound behind their backs and bullets in the back of the head.

The Badr Corps, which is the military arm of the of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq is compiling lists of homosexuals. Many gay Iraqis are — they are warned that if they do not get married, they will be subject to assassination. They usually give them about a month to change their ways, as they put it. And if they don’t, they are targeted for murder.

There have been assaults by the Badr Corps in the streets of Iraq. And since the Ayatollah al-Sistani’s death fatwa against gays, this has given a green light for manifestations of public homophobia in the most violent way by Shia Muslims in Iraq. So you have situations where Badr Corps thugs will drag someone into the street and begin beating them, and they are then surrounded by crowds of Shia passers-by who cheer them on. It’s a very desperate situation.

The gay activist I spoke to in Baghdad, with practically tears in his voice, was begging the West to, “Please, we need protection!” When gay activists have gone to the U.S. authorities in the Green Zone, I was told, “We are laughed at, and they don’t care.” They treat the gay Iraqis who are begging them for protection with contempt and derision, which is rather scandalous.

AMY GOODMAN: Ali Hili, you left Iraq two years ago, living in exile, now afraid to even show your face. Were you a supporter of Saddam Hussein?

ALI HILI: Say again? I couldn’t get that little —

AMY GOODMAN: Were you a supporter of Saddam Hussein?

ALI HILI: No, no, no, no. Actually, I’m personally, I have big hate for this person. He is the worst thing that ever happened to Iraq, maybe, until we saw these religious mullahs who were brought to the government to lead this country. We were much better off in the Saddam time, although he’s a tyrant.

But the Middle East is not that little, simple a-b-c. The politics shouldn’t approach Iraq in that way. Again, it’s a huge, huge mistake, taking off a secular state, with a neighbor Islamic state. Iran has a great, huge, huge influence now on Iraqi government. And they want to adapt the Islamic — Iran version inside Iraq and in the south. We have sources that’s been telling us that several, several Iranian officers and people are really working with the government, and especially the last report we got today from Mr. Muhammed al-Shahwani, the Iraqi intelligence director of the Ha’aretz newspaper, it says names and addresses belonging to Badr organization, closely associated to the Iranian regime, were discovered during a raid by the Iraqi Intelligence Agency against police central last month, and Iranians were arrested during the raid. In Iraq. One was charged of a television station; with no authorization, he’s working. And another one is an officer intelligence from Iranian regime. These horrific — and in fact, it’s proved that Iraq has been penetrated by the Iranian regime, through these mullahs and religious parties.

AMY GOODMAN: Ali Hili, we want to thank you very much for being with us and for speaking out where you are now in Britain, having gone into exile from Iraq, and Doug Ireland of Gay City News, for breaking this story.

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