By Michael Riley
WASHINGTON — As Rep. Jared Polis toured Iraq this week, he had something more than security conditions or troop withdrawals on his mind: the case of a man allegedly sentenced to death in a criminal court for membership in a gay-rights group.
An openly gay member of Congress, Polis has been investigating the treatment of gays in Iraq for several months, and last week he spoke through a translator by phone to a transgender Iraqi man who said he had been arrested, beaten and raped by Ministry of Interior security forces.
Human-rights groups tracking the issue also passed Polis a letter, allegedly written from jail by a man who said he was beaten into confessing he was a member of the gay-rights group Iraqi-LGBT. The group said the man had been sentenced to death in a court in Karkh and finally executed.
"Is there anyone to help me before it is too late?" said the letter. Its author's name was being withheld to protect his family.
Polis carried some of that evidence with him to Iraq and presented State Department officials in Baghdad with a letter outlining the allegations and pressing members of the Iraqi parliament's human-rights committee.
"We will see whether the Iraqi government is serious about protecting the human rights of all Iraqis, and we can also see what role our own State Department can play in helping to protect this minority in Iraq," Polis said by phone Wednesday after leaving Iraq.
The allegations are extremely sensitive for both the Iraqi government and U.S. officials, who have dispensed billions of dollars to support the current Shiite-led regime and the new democratic era that it represents.
Iraqi officials conceded that six gay men have been killed in Sadr City in the past two weeks.
Wednesday, the New York Times reported that Iraqi police had begun a crackdown on homosexuals — whose status is illegal in Iraq — and that influential clerics have urged that they be sought out and killed.
But the killings and disappearances have so far been blamed on relatives ashamed of their family members' activities or on secretive groups associated with the country's most conservative religious elements.
Polis said the most disturbing aspect of the persecution is that the government itself may be involved.
The Boulder Democrat said that while State Department officials in Washington initially dismissed the claims of Iraqi Interior Ministry involvement, the charge d'affaires in Baghdad has requested more documentation and the chance to speak with witnesses and victims. (State Department officials did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.)
"We have our follow-up work to do in providing the contacts and information that we have to the State Department and, with the permission of those involved, some have agreed to have their information also given to the Iraqi government," Polis said.