And while that probably isn't a big surprise, it certainly speaks volumes about our "progress" in building a safe, Democratic Iraq where freedom and equality rule.
Mohammed, 37, has been openly gay for much of his adult life. For him, this has meant growing his hair long and taking estrogen. In the past, he said, that held little danger. As is true throughout the Middle East, men have always been publicly affectionate here.
But, at least until recently, Mohammed and many of his gay friends went one step further, slipping into lovers’ houses late at night. And, until the American invasion, they said, Iraqi society had quietly accepted them.
But being openly gay is not an option in the new Iraq, where the rise of religious extremism has left Mohammed and his gay friends feeling especially vilified.
In 2005, Iraq’s most revered Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, issued a fatwa, or religious decree, calling for gay men and lesbians to be killed in the “worst, most severe way.”
He lifted it a year later, but neither that nor the recent ebb in violence has made Mohammed or his friends feel safe. They yearn to leave Iraq, but do not have the money or visas. They agreed to be interviewed on the condition that their last names not be used.
These extremists are an unpleasant lot, for sure.
His hand drifted to his newly shorn hair. He had lopped it off days earlier. There had been reports of extremists stopping long-haired men, shearing their hair and forcing them to eat it.
At least 400 people have been killed in Iraq since 2003 for being gay, according to an Iraqi gay rights group.
And some in the American military are not really helping matters with their adolescent condescending attitudes toward gays.
The American invasion was expected to usher in better times.
“We thought that with the presence of Americans, life would become paradise, that Iraq would be Westernized,” Mohammed said. “But unfortunately the way things were before was so much better than where we are now.”
One night shortly after Saddam Hussein fell, American soldiers burst into the apartment that Mohammed shared with his two brothers. They were looking for insurgents, but took one look at Mohammed, with his long hair and shapely body wrapped in a robe, and teased him, he said.
“What are you, a lady man?” he remembered them barking. “A boy? Or a girl?” They turned to one of Mohammed’s brothers, “Who is this?” they asked, “Your girlfriend?”
Being gay in Iraq now keeps them constantly on the move seeking safety. Not surprisingly, many of them want out of Iraq.
One of Mohammed’s friends, a 25-year-old law student named Rafi, said he was especially desperate to get out of Iraq. It is a sentiment shared by millions of Iraqis, but Rafi believes his future here is especially bleak. The influence from Iran is growing, he said. And in Iran, homosexuality is often punishable by death.
“I want to get out, but not just out of Iraq, out of the Middle East,” Rafi said, “to a country that has respect for human rights. And for us.”
Good luck. And if you are casting an eye on the United States, I'd wait until January 2009 -- at least.
Crossposted at Big Brass Blog