The eruption of violence in February appears to have been an unintended consequence of the country’s broader peace. In the wake of the surge in American troops and the increase in strength of the Iraqi military and police forces, Iraq’s once-powerful Sunni and Shia militias have wound down their attacks against American forces and one another. Now they appear to be repositioning themselves as agents of moral enforcement, exploiting anti-gay prejudice as a means of engendering public support. Gay Iraqis seem to believe that the Mahdi Army is the main, but not only, culprit in the purges. “They’ve started a new game to make people follow them. No more whores, no more lesbians, no more gays,” a friend of Fadi’s told me. “They’re sending a message to people: ‘We are still here, and we can do anything we want.’ ”
Then comes the story of Nuri, abducted by police officers:
They told him things would get much worse for him if he didn’t tell them all they wanted to hear. “Killing gays is halal,” one of the men said, meaning it was permissible under Islamic law. “We’ll get points in heaven for it.”
Over the next three weeks, nine men, working in teams of three, took turns torturing Nuri. For three days, toward the end of his captivity, the men put a bag over his head and raped him. On the first day, he estimated that fifteen men assaulted him. The second day, six men. The third day, three.
And what Sami suffered:
Sami was beaten with sticks and cables, and whipped on the soles of his feet (falaka, as it’s called in Arabic). He was sexually assaulted with a squeegee. “We’re going to make you regret you ever had sex with a man,” one of the men said. “We’re going to kill you,” another said.
Sami asked the men how they had found out about him. Another gay man they had abducted, his captors said, had given up names of gay men he knew. Sami’s was the first name he had given them. The man and Sami had had sex a decade earlier, and Sami had introduced the man to several other gay men. (The man has not been seen since his disappearance, according to Sami.) Sami realized the kidnappers were building a database of gay men’s names.
In New York a plan is hatched to
build an underground railroad of sorts, reaching out to gay men in Iraq through the Internet and their existing contacts in Iraq, then advising and supporting gay Iraqis until they could ferry them to a safe city somewhere in Iraq, then to a haven elsewhere in the region, and eventually perhaps to the West.
The men had reason to believe they may not be safe anywhere. One young Iraqi, a doctor named Mu’ayyad whom Long had put me in touch with, fled his home about a year and a half ago, without outside help, after a relative told him that his uncles planned to slaughter him in their tribal village to remove the stain they felt he had placed on their family’s reputation. Mu’ayyad escaped to another country, found work in a hospital, and one day caught sight of his uncles in the hospital. They had apparently come all the way from Iraq to kill him. He fled once more. With Long’s help, he is now seeking refugee status in a Western country.