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BAGHDAD - Radical Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr has ordered the "depravity" of homosexuality be eradicated but warned against the anti-gay violence that has recently erupted, a spokesman said on Friday.
"The purpose of the meetings is to fight the depravity and to urge the community to reject this phenomenon," said Sheikh Wadea al-Atabi, referring to a Thursday seminar attended by clerics, tribal leaders and police.
"The only remedy to stop it is through preaching and guidance. There is no other way to put an end to it," he said, stressing that the movement could not resort to violence after a series of killings of gay men in Baghdad.
"Al-Sadr rejects this type of violence ... and anyone who commits violence (against gays) will not be considered as being one of us," Atabi said.
In the sprawling Baghdad Shiite district of Sadr City, police last month recovered the bullet-riddled bodies of three men said to have been homosexuals.
Another three men were found dead on the outskirts of Sadr City, with police saying an additional four men were found tortured but alive.
Also in April, a group calling itself "Brigades of the Righteous" posted signs around Sadr City listing alleged homosexuals and threatening to kill them.
The recent persecution prompted rights group Amnesty International to write a letter to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki last month urging government protection of homosexuals.
It said that as many as 25 boys and men had been killed in Baghdad alone because they were either gay or believed to be amid concerns that religious leaders may be inciting violence against Iraq's gay community.
Homosexuality is forbidden in Islam, frowned upon in Arab society and illegal in many Middle Eastern countries. Iraq has no law against homosexuality but prominent religious authorities have harshly condemned it.
At Thursday's seminar, which was held in Sadr Cirty, Al-Sheikh Dawud al-Enezi, a Sadr movement leader, said "we must correct the morals of the nation. Homosexuality "is a disaster that has come to the community."
Abu Hussein, a tribal leader in Sadr City, said: "Everybody has to work to preserve the morals of young people from the corrupt phenomena of the West."