This is exactly what it’s like to be LGBTI under ISIS
Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, fell to ISIS in June 2014. Everyone was affected, but so-called Islamic State targeted gay people in particular.
It took nine months of intense military operations from Iraqi forces and their allies to recapture Mosul in July 2017.
But for those three years, ISIS executed LGBTI people by blindfolding them and throwing them off rooftops, as well as stoning them.
Daesh (ISIS) also enforced strict clothing limitations. Males had to wear loose clothing and not shave their beard, while females had to cover their face with the burqa. ISIS militants ruthlessly punished anyone who did not follow these rules.
25-year-old gay man, Omar Saadaldean, has lived all of his life in Mosul and is one of the survivors of ISIS persecution.
But even though ISIS is no longer in Mosul, he remains fearful. During the occupation, ISIS heavily polluted the public discourse, influencing the perception of the LGBTI community.
Saadaldean’s suffering not only came from ISIS, but also from his family members. His older brother, Abdullah, ‘raged against him’ in front of the rest of his family, making him feel depressed.
Saadaldean said: ‘At that time, I thought about suicide, but then I talked myself out of it so I could live the life I deserve.’
Beatings, lashes and ‘sitting on a Pepsi bottle’
In 2016, during Mosul liberation operations, Saadaldean met an officer in the Iraqi forces. The officer asked him to be in a relationship and Omar agreed.
‘After a period, I found that he only wanted me to have sex,’ Saadaldean revealed. ‘He forced me to have sex many times.
‘I felt frustrated, so I decided to leave him but he threatened to jail me if I did,’ Omar said.
He couldn’t take it anymore, so he left.
In August 2017, armed groups detained Saadaldean with no written notice or prior warning and they drove him to the jail inside Mosul.
They made false accusations of Saadaldean having links to ISIS.
‘I was also exposed to various methods of torture,’ he revealed. ‘Including sitting on a Pepsi bottle, beatings, lashes all over my body and forcing me to admit things I didn’t do.’
Due to lack of evidence, they released Saadaldean after three days in jail, but he has many painful memories.
‘I’ve lived very hard and unbelievable days,’ he said. ‘I feel sad and disappointed when I remember my life inside jail.’
‘Despite the harsh days, it did not prevent me from doing good inside the jail. I taught other prisoners how to write and read and also cut their hair,’ he revealed.
The crime of ‘looking’ gay
Iraqi actor Karrar Noshi lived in the country’s capital Baghdad. He received death threats in July 2017 and two days later was kidnapped and killed.
His crime? His ‘effeminate’ hairstyle and appearance. But Noshi is not the only victim at the hands of unknown groups.
But it doesn’t just affect LGBTI people. Human rights activists and journalists who focus on human rights issues also get constant death threats.
LGBTI people in Iraq are under threat from both ISIS in the north of the country and Iran-backed militias in the south.
In 2009, militias urged a crackdown on homosexuals because they were — or were perceived to be — gay. The conditions have become increasingly dangerous in the last 10 years.
28-year old Ahmed Yousuf is a social media officer and researcher at the Gender and Body Rights Media Center.
He said: ‘The hardest challenges human rights defenders and LGBTI advocates face is being an easy target to militias, social crackdown and discrimination. Although there is no law that criminalizes homosexuality in Iraq, judges manipulate the laws and articles by playing with words and the structure of the article so that they can criminalize this act.’
Yousuf added: ‘The government should protect LGBTI people and stop using laws to condemn gay people. Authorities should protect them from so-called ‘Honor Crime’ and stop militias if they start new campaigns against the LGBTI community.’
Karrar AL-Lami fled ‘very conservative city’ Basra in Iraq’s south, after his boyfriend’s family walked in on them having sex.
‘My family wanted to disown me when they discovered that I am gay,’ Al-Lami revealed, via Facebook messenger. ‘I fell in love with my boyfriend, Mohammed.
He then continued: ‘My boyfriend’s family wanted to kill me in accordance with Iraq’s tribal tradition of honor crimes. They saw us having sex.’
He had to flee Iraq and went through Turkey to get to Sweden.
‘Here in Sweden I feel comfort because it is a safe country for us in the LGBTI community,’ he said. ‘Now I can not go back home because it’s too dangerous.’
He then added: ‘I lived many hard years in Iraq. I feel sad and disappointed when I remember those days.’
Over 200 LGBTI people killed in 2017
The Global Voice Agency reported more than 400 people were killed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, between 2003 and 2009.
On the ground, this number is increasing since militias rose up in the last few years. The uprising led to the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) sending a letter to the former Iraqi Minister of Human Rights, Wijdan Salim, requesting to protect LGBTI Iraqis.
Amir Ashour is the founder and executive director of IraQueer, a registered human rights organization focusing on the LGBTI community in the Iraq and Kurdistan region. He also fled Iraq for being gay.
‘Since 2006, there has been at least one annual killing campaign targeting LGBTI people,’ Ashour said.
He then added: ‘In 2017 alone, more than 200 LGBTI people were killed by the government, armed groups, families, and others.
‘International governments must hold ISIS militants accountable for their crimes against individuals based on their gender identity and sexual orientation,’ he said.
IraQueer recently published a report showing who commits violations against LGBTI people. Between 2015 and 2019, armed groups were responsible for 31% of violence, family for 27%, the government for 22%, ISIS for 10% and others 10%.
For 24-year-old Iraqi gay man Haider Mary, the cruelest experience of his life was when both his father and militia tortured him for being gay, leading him to flee to Turkey.
‘When I was 17, one of the Mahdi militia militants threw stones at my head in Iraq’s capital, Baghdad,’ he said. ‘My head still bears the scars.
‘It’s the tribal power above the law,’ he said.
Azhar Al-Rubaie is a freelance journalist based in Iraq. Follow him on Twitter: @AzherRubaie.
Sub-edited by James Besanvalle.