Two gay Iraqi men have claimed that they survived a kidnapping and beating by members of the violently homophobic Mahdi Army – the militia of fundamentalist Shia cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr.
Two months after their ordeal, Ahmed, 23, and Zaid, 24, both students in Baghdad University, have come forward to the Iraqi gay rights organistion, Iraqi LGBT, to tell how they were lured into a trap by members of the Mahdi Army.
The Madhi Army has been implicated in the torture and execution of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Iraqis – and many other Iraqis, especially women, who do not conform to its harsh interpretation of Islam.
According to Ahmed’s and Zaid’s story, Muqtada al-Sadr’s men have been posing as gays in online chatrooms, in order to lure gay men, arrange dates and kill them.
Ahmed and Zaid told their story to Dina H, an Iraqi lesbian who is the co-coordinator of Iraqi LGBT, in the southern region, south of Baghdad.
Ahmed and Zaid apparently went online in early May and entered a gay chatroom, where they arranged to meet two men who had asked them for a date. On May 17, Ahmed and Zaid showed up for their dates, who were very good looking men with a new car. After chatting for a while, Ahmed and Zaid agreed to go with them in their car. They headed towards the Al-Karada district of Baghdad.
When they got there, their dates revealed themselves to be members of the Mahdi Army and locked the car doors, took out guns and began beating Ahmed and Zaid. The Mahdi men interrogated them, demanding to know the names and phone numbers of other gay men.
According to Dina H’s account, based on what she was told by the two students, Ahmed and Zaid were beaten badly and stripped of their clothes, leaving them with only their underwear. They were then blindfolded, handcuffed with strips of wire, forced into the boot of the car and driven away.
“Ahmed and Zaid thought they were going to a place where they would be shot and left for dead, like has happened to so many other gay Iraqis during the last four years. The car stopped in a deserted area. The Mahdi men opened the car trunk and told Ahmed and Zaid to kneel on the ground and say their prayers. Ahmed and Zaid prayed and waited, expecting to be executed. But suddenly, for a reason unknown, the two Mahdi militia men got in their car and drove away,” reports Dina H.
They were later rescued by a passing motorist.
“Normally, gay kidnap victims are always killed,” adds Ali Hili, a gay Iraqi refugee, who coordinates Iraqi LGBT from London, UK.
“Ahmed and Zaid do not know why they were not shot. They are pleasant, kind young men. Perhaps their kidnappers took pity on them. Zaid and Ahmed realise they are very lucky to escape alive. They have learned that being gay in Iraq is impossible. It is too dangerous,” said Hili.