Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Targeting LGBT and Sahwa

The consequences for gay Iraqis who fail to obtain refugee status are severe. Since 2004, hundreds of young men suspected of homosexual conduct have been abducted, tortured, and brutally executed with only a cursory response from Iraqi authorities. Our clients at IRAP and others provide appalling accounts of the violence: in one gruesome method of torture (and often murder), gay men have their anuses glued shut before being fed laxatives.
Although Samir was pursued by family members, the fanatical Mahdi Army is responsible for much of the violence towards gays. "Death squads" murder men, then leave their destroyed bodies in public as warnings to other gay men. Their brutality is matched only by their frighteningly systematic methods: before murdering their captives, the squads interrogate their victims, search through cell phones and demand information on each contact. In this climate, no gay Iraqi whose sexual identity is known to even one other gay man is safe. Another of our clients, Yasser, was kidnapped by a gang who had also kidnapped his ex-boyfriend and found Yasser's information in his phone. Though Yasser eventually escaped, the gang also seized his phone -- and the names and numbers of all of his gay acquaintances.
LGBT Iraqis seek refuge, but leaving for nearby countries is no guarantee of safety. The proximity of these neighboring nations to Iraq mean persecutors can simply follow fleeing refugees, as with Samir's near-encounter with his uncles in Jordan. And, while the violence toward gays is singularly horrific in Iraq, settling gay Iraqis in neighboring countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia (where homosexuality is illegal) is a poor solution.
Even fleeing to countries like Turkey and Jordan carries intense challenges for gay men. Our clients report being harassed by officials assigned to help refugees; other reports show they have also threatened to deport these men or disclose their sexual orientation. Fearful of new threats of violence and harassment if they confess to local officials that they are gay, these men sometimes chose to stay silent and risk being sent back to certain death in Iraq, as LGBT status is the very basis of their persecution and refugee claims.

The above is from Taylor Asen and Zach Strassburger's "The gay Iraqi crisis" (Foreign Policy) and Iraq's LGBT community is among the many now targeted as a consequence of the illegal war and the US government's desire to utilize thugs to intimidate the people into cooperation with the occupation. Gay men (and straight men thought to be gay) and trans men have been sadistically murdered by thugs which includes thugs on Nouri al-Maliki's police force. The US has done little to stop the assault although we're apparently supposed to be grateful that the US government no longer denies that the assaults are taking place. All it took was a BBC documentary and reporting by the Denver Post, the New York Times, etc. and an outcry from US House Rep Jared Polis to get the US State Dept to stop insisting no assaults were taking place. The assaults continue and Saturday Iraqi LGBT issued the following press release:

There is growing concern that the Iraqi government is stepping up a witch-hunt against gays and lesbians in the country after a police raid on a Karbala safe house.
On Tuesday 16th June, twelve police officers burst into the house, then violently beat up, and blindfolded the six occupants sheltering there, before bundling them off in three vans. According to a source who witnessed the raid, the police also confiscated computer equipment before burning down the house.
According to reports, one of the arrested people has turned up in hospital. Nothing is known about the whereabouts of the other five individuals, which include two gay men, one lesbian and two transgender people. It is feared they may have been taken to the Interior Ministry in Baghdad, where, it is reported, many gay people have been tortured and executed in the last two years.
Government forces have previously sized people particularly at roadblocks and handed them to militias who have then tortured them and their bodies have later been found.
None of the previous occupying powers have taken any action or delivered any criticism for these atrocities.
Iraqi LGBT feel that the reason the British and United States government in particular didn’t criticises the Iraqi government is because of the legacy of the occupation.
They have criticised the Malawian government and the Ugandan government.
In both those countries there is a strong religious opposition to homosexuality -- as there is in Iraq.
Since the fall of Saddam, militias loyal to Shi’a clerics Grand Ayatollah al Sistani and Muqtada al Sadr, both of whom have called for homosexuals to be put to death, have been only too keen to carry out their leaders’ wishes. Over 720 LGBT people have disappeared or been murdered, many of whom have been tortured to death.
There is strong evidence that the government is colluding with these militia groups, by rounding up known homosexual and transgender people. A small number of safe houses, set up for LGBT people to live in relative safety, have been funded by Iraqi LGBT, a London based human rights group. In the current climate, these homes have been life-savers for those taking refuge in them. The house which was raided on Tuesday had been established in January this year.
With the arrest and the seizure of computers, it is feared the government will step up efforts to round up more of the country’s LGBT population.
Ali Hili, who is the leader of Iraqi LGBT, comments: "The UK media and politicians have been too quiet for too long about the violence LGBT people in Iraq. The militia and the powers that be know they can get away with it while that silence continues. It really is time for the Iraqi government to act on this and stop playing the role of guilty bystanders, while our brothers and sisters are murdered in silence"
Currently the UK Border Agency is deporting many Iraqis, some who left the country in fear of their lives after death threats from gangsters and religious militia. "The government is grossly underestimating the danger faced by Iraqi refugees." says Ali. "The raid on Tuesday proves for LGBT people especially, Iraq is a no-go zone".

Meanwhile Reuters reports that the targeting of Sahwa continues with Raad Tami al-Mujamai being killed today by a sticky bombing in Buhriz. In other violence, Reuters notes a Baghdad roadside bombing claimed 2 lives and left seven people injured, a Baquba motorcycle bombing injured eight people and a Baghdad roadside bombing injured eight people -- a convoy of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council.

Monday April 5th, WikiLeaks released US military video of a July 12, 2007 assault in Iraq. 12 people were killed in the assault including two Reuters journalists Namie Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh. Monday June 7th, the US military announced that they had arrested Bradley Manning and he stood accused of being the leaker of the video. Philip Shenon (Daily Beast) reported earlier this month that the US government is attempting to track down WikiLeaks' Julian Assange. Mike Gogulski has started a website entitled Help Bradley Manning. Ian Traynor (Guardian) spoke with Julian Assange:

"[US] public statements have all been reasonable. But some statements made in private are a bit more questionable," Assange told the Guardian in Brussels. "Politically it would be a great error for them to act. I feel perfectly safe … but I have been advised by my lawyers not to travel to the US during this period."
Assange appeared in public in Brussels for the first time in almost a month to speak at a seminar on freedom of information at the European parliament.
He said: "We need support and protection. We have that. More is always helpful. But we believe that the situation is stable and under control. There's no need to be worried. There's a need always to be on the alert."

Andrew Fowler (Australia's ABC) also spoke wth Assange:

"I can give an analogy. If there had been mass spying that had affected many, many people and organisations and the details of that mass spying were released then that is something that would reveal that the interests of many people had been abused."
He agreed it would be of the "calibre" of publishing information about the way the top secret Echelon system - the US-UK electronic spying network which eavesdrops on worldwide communications traffic - had been used.
Mr Assange also confirmed that WikiLeaks has a copy of a video showing a US military bombing of a western Afghan township which killed dozens of people, including children.

Chris Vallance (BBC News) adds, "When asked by the BBC whether he was concerned that other people involved with Wikileaks might be vulnerable he said: 'We are concerned to make sure that our volunteers in particular are protected'." Ellen Nakashima (Washington Post) covers the story and notes this of Bradley Manning, "Assange, in his first public appearance since Manning's arrest, voiced concern about Manning's detention without charge and without access to a private lawyer. At a European Parliament panel in Brussels, the Wikileaks founder also took questions about his own security."

Yesterday Kareem Waheed resigned as the Minister of Electricity following the protests in southern Iraq. Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) explains, "Waheed weathered four years in his post, picked by the country’s then-unified Shiite political coalition for his job in 2006. Billed as a technocrat, Waheed failed to solve the Gordian knot of Iraq’s electricity woes. He coped with a faulty power supply, complicated by fuel shortages, poor infrastructure, corruption and the country’s rampant violence." Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor and McClatchy Newspapers) adds:

The political vacuum and the violence have been hugely unsettling to Iraqis. With the onset of summer, where temperatures hover close to 150 degrees F., the prospect of continued electricity cuts has plunged many into deeper despair.
"This is worse than Saddam. At least with Saddam we had electricity every two hours," said Jaber, who said he has been sleeping on the floor in the Trade Bank office for the past 25 days because of the electricity cuts in his neighborhood.
"It's like Christmas lights - it goes on and off." When the electricity comes on, the water cuts out, he said. His wife and two children - aged 6 and 2 years old - have it the worst.
"When you see your child being tormented by the heat and you can't do anything but fan them it's like a fire eating you up inside," he said. "We've decided not to have any more children to save them this torment."

The Senate Democratic Policy Committee continues addressing a number of issues, check out the DPC's video page, and Committee Chair Byron Dorgan addresses the issue of unemployment insurance in the video below.

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