LGBT people in Iraq live in fear of lives – HRW

Armed groups in Iraq, including the police and one of the country’s most powerful militias, attack LGBT people with impunity, a new report says.

Cases include abductions, torture, rape and murder, with LGBT people living in fear of their lives, campaigners Human Rights Watch (HRW) and IraQueer found.

HRW said the Iraqi government had failed to hold perpetrators accountable.

Iraq’s interior ministry has denied any such attacks by its security forces.

Warning: This article contains descriptions of violence.

The 86-page report includes interviews with 54 LGBT Iraqis carried out between June and November last year.

Accounts paint a harrowing picture of life as an LGBT person in Iraq, where the community is disproportionately affected by laws against extra-marital sex and undefined “immodest acts” in public.

Those interviewed described being arbitrarily arrested by security officials and subjected to physical and verbal abuse. They said that in detention they were denied food, water and medical treatment, and not allowed to contact a lawyer or family members.

Some said police forced them to sign statements saying they had not been mistreated.

The worst cases involved groups belonging to the umbrella organisation Popular Mobilisation (PM), a powerful Shia-led paramilitary unit which officially became part of the Iraqi armed forces in 2018.

One 31-year-old transgender woman, “Khadija”, described how she was brutally attacked after being stopped by up to half a dozen men in a Hummer vehicle.

“They kicked and punched and slapped me all over my head and body. They told me to get up and threw me in a garbage bin…. I lay down on the garbage and they pulled out a razor blade and a screwdriver and poked and cut me all over, especially my [bottom], crotch, and thighs.

She said they poured petrol on her and set her alight, before she was saved by neighbours.

Another, “Laith”, a 27-year-old gay man, told how his boyfriend was killed in front of him.

“Four men got out of [a] car. I saw two of them had guns. They all had long beards. They beat him and forced him into the car and drove away. I followed them in my car…. They arrived at a big farm, took out my boyfriend and started beating him. I heard him scream and sob.

“I wanted to help but I was terrified.… They kept beating him for around 20 minutes. Then they shot him five times.”

HRW’s LGBT rights researcher Rasha Younes said: “LGBT Iraqis live in constant fear of being hunted down and killed by armed groups with impunity, as well as arrest and violence by Iraqi police, making their lives unliveable.

“The Iraqi government has done nothing to stop the violence or hold the abusers accountable,” she said.

Both the interior ministry and an official described as a “mid-level commander” within the PM denied their forces had been involved in the abuses, the Associated Press reported.

Ms Younes called on the Iraqi government to take immediate action.

“Iraqi authorities should start by publicly condemning violence against LGBT people and safeguarding their right to access protection in their own country.”

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