Iraqi Cleric Calls For End to Anti-LGBT Violence

Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr
Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr at a 2015 protest in Baghdad (Alaa Al-Marjani/Reuters)

Present-day Iraq has no shortage of armed militia groups. The leader of one such group, Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, has taken a new stance on Anti-LGBT violence carried out by his militia.

“Finally, the head of one of the groups whose members have carried out serious abuses against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Iraq is condemning these heinous attacks,” said Joe Stork, HRW deputy Middle East director. “We hope this will change behavior in successors to the Mahdi Army and other ranks, and spur the government to hold accountable those who commit these crimes.”

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HRW reports that al-Sadr’s militia, the Mahdi Army, has been responsible for many acts of violence against LGBT individuals. These violent acts include kidnappings, executions and torture.

While al-Sadr continues to point out that he believes same-sex relationships are unacceptable, he believes those not conforming to gender norms suffer from “psychological problems” and shouldn’t be attacked. In part a statement to his followers he says:

“[You] must disassociate from them [but] not attack them, as it increases their aversion and you must guide them using acceptable and rational means.”

We can’t say this is a giant leap forward to LGBT equality in Iraq. Although some of the violence may be ending, the discrimination and harassment is far from over. But in such a troubled part of the world, in a place where LGBT people have been persecuted for centuries, any step forward is progress.

As with all humans rights advancements, change has to begin somewhere. Let’s hope this small step forward will lead to greater gains in the future.



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