By Paul Canning
Last week the Iraqi LGBT group reported that some of an upcoming batch of executions in Iraq, which had been reported by Amnesty International, were of gay men being executed for homosexuality.
The group has suffered severe persecution in Iraq. It runs safe houses for LGBT fleeing death threats and says that many of its members have been murdered by both death squads and police forces.
Iraqi police have been reported as being infiltrated by both insurgents and religious groups.
Iraqi LGBT claims that the government since mid December 2008 has "a mass campaign to [eliminate] homosexuality". They say they have "many eyewitnesses" and that "members of the police and ministry of interior forces is actually involved on the mass arrest and taking suspects of homosexuality off the streets to unknown destination".
Homosexuality was made a crime by Saddam Hussein in 2001 following pressure by clerics. Repeated convictions carries the death penalty.
In response to the report by Iraqi LGBT the Boston gay newspaper EDGE spoke to the US State Department and in an astonishing rebuttal a spokesperson, John Fleming, who has worked at their Iraqi Desk through the Bush presidency, denied that Iraq's government executed any people since 2007 and that homosexuality is a crime.
He told the EDGE that any criminals now awaiting possible execution are there for crimes such as "terrorism, insurgency and kidnapping." Their sexual identity is irrelevant to the charges, he said.
"None were convicted of the ’crime’ of being homosexual," Fleming said. "In fact, it’s immaterial to Iraqis."
This is the same State Department which in 2006, following horrific reports in US media, the issuing of a fatwa calling for the killing of gays by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, United Nations reports and pressure from the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), declared itself ‘troubled’ over anti-gay violence in Iraq.
Fleming asserted that "the average Iraqi" had other issues to concern themselves with and that this issue was "a luxury."
This appears to contradict Hillary Clinton, who told European Parliament last month that the persecution of gays and lesbians is "something that we take very seriously".
She added condemnation of where persecution was "condoned and protected."
Fleming disputes the reports by organisations like the UN and IGLHRC of a 'deathzone' for Iraqi LGBT. In fact he denied that homosexuality was a crime punishable by death.
Despite this, the issue of 'individual rights' was something US forces "frequently raise with Iraqi leaders and officials," he said.
It is unfortunate that due to language issues and bad reporting (such as of all those on death row being gay) that the urgent calls from Iraqi gays for help have been lost in translation. It's essential that other groups like the UN and IGLRC urgently investigate and substantiate Iraqi LGBT's reports.
What is clear is that Iraq's government has form. Plus that homosexuality is not just a cultural but a legal and political issue there. There are grounds to believe Iraqi LGBT reports that there would be a government organised pogram of LGBT.
What Iraqi LGBT are saying is that in Iraq we currently have the world's worst 'deathzone' for LGBT, far worse than Iran.
It may not suit the interests of western governments who support the Iraqi government to say this so it is up to others to hold Hillary Clinton to her words in Brussels as well as the fine words of David Milliband on LGBT rights.
And when she returns to Washington Hillary might want to look at what her spokespeople are saying in her name.
Postscript: Human Rights Watch (HRW) are reportedly trying to obtain corroboration of gay men on death row for homosexuality. HRW's Scott Long in an email circulated to the gayswithoutborders listserv said "we are trying urgently to determine who they are and what has happened."