SILENT ACCOMPLICES

How America and Britain are Helping Iraq Kill Its Queers

We already mentioned the 12 Iraqi police officers who beat up, blindfolded, and carried off six occupants of an “emergency shelter” run by the UK-based Iraqi LGBT. The group says the two gay men, one lesbian, and one transgender person arrested have been transported to Baghdad to be interrogated (i.e. tortured) for information about the group. If past experience is any indicator, these individuals are at serious risk of ending up in the hands of a radical Muslim militia to be mutilated, killed, and abandoned. Iraqi LGBT says the action reeks of the police and state modus operandi, but while the American and British governments have stood by promising to “investigate,” they’ve done nothing because of a lack of evidence and “religious sensitivities.” Does foreign inaction make them an accomplice to gay genocide?

Last year Rep. Jared Polis got the State Department to investigate claims of arrests, beatings, rapes, trials, and executions of LGBTs by Iraq’s interior ministry security forces. But Patricia Butenis of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad cut the investigation off at the legs saying, “We have no evidence that security forces are in any way involved with these militias.”

Meanwhile, the British foreign office merely states “official figures do not show a significant overall increase in violence against, or systematic abuse of, the homosexual community by fundamentalists or militia groups” and repeats the claims by Iraq’s human rights and interior ministries that “homosexuality is not a crime in Iraq” and that LGBT murderers “will be prosecuted”, although none have.

In short, there’s a lot of concern and promises of investigations, but no real action. British authorities have cited “religious sensitivities” as their reason for inaction, but at some point one has to wonder whether the US and UK governments see LGBTs as politically expendable.

Iraq’s already a morass of political and security issues, and between the Iraqi militias who pledge their allegiance to powerful anti-gay clerics and the corruptible and destabilized Iraqi government, the U.S. and U.K. may see LGBT rights as a less important problem in the larger picture. Charging the Iraqi government with systematically targeting its LGBT citizens would upset the already tenuous relationship between the country and its Western allies, but more practically, neither the the Americans or British are offering suggestions on how Iraq could reform its own system or a pledge to help them do so.

It’s ultra-cynical and ignorant to think either government wants Iraqi LGBTs to suffer as they have. (Even those claims about American soldiers killing gay Iraqis turned out to be false.) And though our troops have their own problems with The Gays in Iraq, Iraqi homophobia is hardly a Western export.

It has more to do with traditional Muslim beliefs and roving bands of religious extremist vigilantes. But those vigilantes happen to work for the Iraqi government now, and if the U.S. and U.K. are serious about addressing the problem, they need to offer real solutions and consequences for Iraq’s continued harassment of their LGBT citizens. Otherwise, our continued inaction is tantamount to permission.