Op-ed: The Legacy of the Bush War on Iraqi Gays

Published: December 19, 2011

Even with the end of the war in Iraq, there is no relief for gay Iraqis who live in a desperate reality being documented by a publication called Gay Middle East.

With the lowering of the American flag, finally off Iraqi soil as it returns home to the United States, and the ecstatic familial greetings of soldiers returned, the Bush Iraq War is over. It may always be regretted by LGBT  Iraqis. They have suffered alongside all Iraqis, not only as a result of the vanquished Saddam Hussein regime, nor only collaterally from American bombing that comes with the brutal nuances of that particular war, but also because of adversity imposed by being “outed” by militias, and because of brutality by religious fanaticism that has taken hold of post-Saddam Iraq.
While none will debate the imperative demise of Hussein, many Iraqi gays may well have preferred that brutal reign to what they have since faced.

With the war, quiet non-disclosure and occasional homophobic targeting gave way to a voracious endeavor by lawless militias, and they unleashed violence against gays in unprecedented fashion. Trillions of dollars, blood, limbs and lives are all part of the mayhem that provides the context for this added persecution.

Gay Iraqis had to run, and they are still running. One estimate cited by Gay Middle East says that more than 700 LGBT people have been killed since the U.S. led invasion, with thousands more suffering violence, discrimination and abuse on a daily basis.

Dan Littauer, executive editor of Gay Middle East, told me, "While under the dictatorial regime of Saddam Hussein’s secular Ba’ath party, LGBTI people lived under an unwritten rule akin to a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy, but in post-Saddam Iraq, this has become nearly impossible.”

LGBT Iraqis fled in multitudes to Syria, Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and other countries, now only to be caught up in local revolutions that have caused them further risk and at times violence.

With the Americans gone, nothing has changed for LGBT Iraqis, and peril persists as it has for the past nine years with no promise of a solution. Just last week President Obama issued a groundbreaking memo elucidating a progressive LGBT foreign policy, promising asylum seekers a friend in America. And Secretary of State Hilary Clinton spoke eloquently before the United Nations about why LGBT rights are human rights. Yet there was no information on the specific plans to help gay people who have been so severely impacted by the U.S. war in Iraq.

It would do little good to leave the solution in the hands of NGOs that are barely able to function in such dire of conditions. And it’s virtually impossible for displaced gay people to return home because, once outed, they face so-called “honor” killings by families who must be seen as “solving” the problem of a “deviant” family member or risk shame, diminished social standing and job prospects. The killings could be forced upon even relatively open-minded families by the watchdog militias, which are apt to take the “law” into their own hands.

“The United States and its allies surely must take some responsibility for this situation and ought to help rectify it,” says Littauer. “It is only logical following the ideas expressed by Secretary Clinton herself in Geneva.”

The  displaced LGBT Iraqis are ongoing victims of this regrettable war; we must ensure they are not lost and forgotten.

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