09 Sep 2010 18:00
The number of homophobic murders in Iraq is reported to be "in the hundreds" according to an official at the UNAMI (United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq), and Ali Hili of London based gay rights group Iraqi LGBT, has recorded more than 700 individuals killed in anti-gay murders. Figures like these are a great cause for concern, raising questions such as how acts of brutality and torture are continuing in a new 'liberated,' 'free,' and 'democratic' Iraq.
Gay men in Iraq have remained a target of the country's far-right religious militia groups, who are specifically targeting men believed to be homosexual whether it be based on fact or suspicion. Groups such as Ahl al-Haq (People of Truth) amongst others have publicly claimed responsibility for murders fuelled by homophobia across the country.
As a ramification of ongoing attacks, many gay Iraqis have left their homes and their country, with the most favoured common destination being Syria. Despite homosexuality remaining illegal under Syrian law and conviction resulting in a three year prison sentence, gay lives are of course still lived out on the streets of Syria's cities. For gay Iraqi men fortunate enough to have found temporary refuge in Syria the situation is anything but safe, and their guard can never be fully dropped. With a steady flow of Iraqis heading for Syria since the outbreak of war in 2003, certain areas of Syria are becoming a microcosm of Iraq. The suburb of Saida Zainab outside Damascus is home to a large number of Iraqi refugees as well as a large Shia shrine, which many Iraqis visit including members of the Mahdi army.
Recent political uprising in Syria has made the situation for these Iraqi men increasingly difficult. Some have again uprooted themselves and are in Syria's neighbouring countries, and a couple have even been forced to return to Iraq, putting themselves in great danger on a daily basis.
Identities have been hidden and names changed for the protection of the individuals.