By Cheryll Simpson, NBC News Producer
BAGHDAD – Widespread violence is down across Baghdad, but not for one minority group.
Iraq's gay population is being targeted by militia groups in a wave of killings that has claimed the lives of up to 25 young men and boys in the past month.
"They know I am gay. I don't know if I am going to be killed, this is up to God," said Moyad, a 38-year-old Baghdad resident who would not give his last name out of fear for his safety.
Visibly frightened, he said that he has many friends who have been sadistically tortured, some even murdered. "They are sticking glue up their anuses; some hospitals refuse to treat them. Is it a war waged against homosexuals?" he asked.
Most of the attacks have happened in Baghdad's Shia neighborhoods, and many believe that religious leaders have used Friday sermons in Sadr City as a platform to incite hatred and violence toward homosexuals. The bodies of three gay men were reported to have been found in Sadr City in April with pieces of paper bearing the word for "pervert" attached to them.
Posters and leaflets have been distributed in the Baghdad neighborhoods of al-Shola, al-Hurya and Sadr City with orders to
, "Cleanse Iraq from the crime of homosexuality."
Baghdad police didn't respond to inquiries from NBC News about the attacks, but the surge in violence has gained attention by the international media.
In a letter to Iraqi President Nouri al-Maliki in April, Amnesty International called for "urgent and concerted action" to stop the killings of men because of their sexual orientation.
Amnesty International expressed concern at the government's failure to "publicly condemn the killings." It urged the government to make sure that the killings are "promptly and effectively investigated, and to see that the perpetrators are brought to justice." The letter also condemned statements from one senior police officer that,"appear to condone or even encourage the targeting of members of the gay community in Baghdad." An Amnesty spokeswoman said there had not yet been a reply from Iraqi authorities.
Campaign of fear
Moyad described a recent crusade by vigilantes in which young men were tortured with hoses and shot."For some time I never went out of my house," he said. "I also had the feeling that they would break in and get me."
Noor, a 24-year-old lesbian who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, said it is easier for her to conceal her sexuality, but she is still frightened about the possibility of being exposed – especially knowing that some of her friends were killed by the militias. "They were burned in Kadhimiya, Hurriya Al-Olaa, Hurriya Al-Thaniya, Dolaai and Dabaash."
Moyad believes that many have been killed by their own families in an effort to preserve their honor. "My friend Ahmed, from the neighborhood of Zafaraniya, was killed by his family for looking like a female. Those commandos tell the families to kill them or else they will kill them. I expect that my own brother might lead those guys to kill me."
'Sense of panic'
Ali Hili is a gay Iraqi who fled to London and founded the fledgling U.K.-based organization,"Iraqi LGBT," a human rights organization that supports Iraqi lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people.
"There is a sense of panic among the youth for fear of retaliation against anyone who is suspected of having a history of being effeminate, anyone with a homosexual past, if you act or dress like one or even have a western hairstyle," said Hili. He said that attacks by the Mahdi Army, a Shiite militia, and its supporters have increased and that death warrants have been sent to individuals.
Hili's organization tries to help gays in Iraq who have come under attack by providing food, electricity, protection, medication and clothing at a safe house in Baghdad. The group also provides phone cards for people to report incidents of harassment, in order to document the situation, often at great risk to their safety in Iraq.
"Many people have nothing but the clothes on their backs, and sometimes not even that, no exaggeration at all here," Hili said of people seeking refuge at the safe house. His organization also tries to help people seeking asylum in other countries.
Moyad said that unfortunately things have actually gotten worse than it was during Saddam's reign things. "I was imprisoned because I was gay, but there was a court, a trial, and the judge let me loose at the time; now they kill people like us."