On a bright afternoon in late March, an 18-year-old named Fadi stood in a friend’s clothing store in Baghdad checking out the new merchandise. A worker in a neighboring store walked into the boutique with a newspaper in his hand and shared a story he had just read. It was about “sexual deviants,” he said. Gay men’s rectums had been glued shut, and they had been force-fed laxatives and water until their insides exploded. They had been found dead on the street.
That evening Fadi met up with his three closest friends—Ahmed, Mazen, and Namir—in a coffee shop called the Shisha café in the Karada district of Baghdad. Karada is a mixed Shia-Christian neighborhood that has a more relaxed, cosmopolitan feel than many parts of the Iraqi capital. Fadi and his friends had been meeting there nearly every evening for a year, Fadi coming from his job cleaning toilets for Americans in the Green Zone and the three others from college. The coffee shop was relatively new and attracted a young crowd. The walls were colored in solid blocks of orange, green, and blue, the glass-topped tables painted red and black. It was the closest thing to hip that Baghdad had to offer. For Fadi and his three friends, who secretly referred to themselves as the 4 Cats, after a Pussycat Dolls–like Lebanese group, the Shisha was a refuge from the hostile, often violent anti-gay climate that they had grown up with in Iraq.
Fadi has a warm, irrepressible laugh; his eyes narrow under thick black eyebrows whenever someone tells a joke. He told his friends about the newspaper story, but insisted it couldn’t be true.
“They’re doing this to frighten us,” he said.
In recent weeks, with rumors of gay death squads and torture on the rise, the four friends had lowered their profile. They no longer went to the Shisha every night. “We’ll see what tomorrow brings,” Fadi said, on the last night they met there.
On April 4, at about 8 p.m., Fadi’s cell phone rang. It was Mazen’s brother.
“Mazen and Namir have been killed,” he said.
The maimed bodies of the two friends had been discovered together in the vast Shia district of Baghdad named Sadr City, which is a stronghold of the Mahdi Army, a powerful Shia militia. Mazen had had his pectoral muscles cut off. There were two drill holes in Namir’s left leg, below the knee. Both had been shot in the head, apparently from close range.
“Two young men were killed on Thursday,” an unnamed Sadr City official told the Reuters news agency in a story published that same day. “They were sexual deviants. Their tribes killed them to restore their family honor.” In the same story, Reuters cited a police source as saying that the bodies of four other gay men had been found in Sadr City on March 25 with signs on their chests reading PERVERT.
Fadi called Ahmed. They spoke for an hour. They were devastated by their friends’ deaths, of course. They were also terrified. Under torture, Mazen and Namir may have given up their names.
It has never been easy being gay in Iraq. During the Saddam Hussein era, open homosexuality wasn’t technically outlawed, but it was effectively forbidden, and harassment and torture of gay people, if sporadic, were not unknown. After the American-led invasion of the country in 2003, a similar atmosphere persisted. Fadi was 12 years old during the American invasion, so he had little knowledge of what it was like to be gay under Saddam, but as far back as a year and a half ago, he was walking past his local hussainiyah (a Shia gathering place similar to a mosque) when a man at the entrance of the building called out to him. “Come in for a minute,” the man said. Fadi knew there was no point in running because they knew where he lived. He assumed the man calling him over was from the Mahdi Army. He walked to the door of the hussainiyah thinking, This is the end for me. After some ten hours of being whipped, kicked, and spit on, Fadi was told to pick himself up off the floor and get dressed. “This is a warning for you,” one of his tormentors told him. “Tell people like you what happened to you.”
As virulent as the violence against gay people (men mostly) was, it operated at a kind of low hum for many years, overshadowed by the country’s myriad other problems. But in February of this year, something changed. There was no announcement, no fatwa, no openly declared policy by a cleric or militia leader or politician, but a wave of anti-gay hysteria hit the country. An Iraqi TV station, with disapproving commentary, showed a video of a group of perhaps two dozen young men at a private dance party, wiggling their hips like female belly dancers. Terms like the third sex and puppies, a newly coined slur, began to appear in hostile news reports. Shia and Sunni clerics started to preach in their Friday sermons about the evils of homosexuality and “the people of Lot.” Police officers stepped up their harassment of openly gay men. Families and tribes cast out their gay relatives. The bodies of gay men like Mazen and Namir, often mutilated, began turning up on the street. There is no way to verify the number of tortured or harassed, but the best available estimates place that figure in the thousands. Hundreds of men are believed to have been killed.
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.’ ”
It doesn’t help that gay people have virtually no allies in Iraqi society. Women, ethnic minorities, detainees, people who work for the Americans—just about everyone else in the country has some sort of representation. But there are no votes to be gained or power to be accrued in any Iraqi community—Shia, Sunni, Kurds, Christians, Turkmen—by supporting gay people. Gays in Iraq today are essentially a defenseless target.
When the purges began in February, the violence seemed to erupt in certain areas, specifically Sadr City and Karada. It was in Karada that a young Iraqi man named Nuri got caught up in the fury.
Nuri was riding in a taxi on a February afternoon when the cab was stopped by the commando unit of the Iraqi police at a checkpoint. To be stopped at a checkpoint was no big deal to Nuri, or any Iraqi. The police put up surprise roadblocks all over the city to catch insurgents and criminals. An officer asked for Nuri’s identification, then told him to step out of the car. The officer asked for Nuri’s cell phone, and Nuri handed it over. Then the officer threw Nuri against the car and handcuffed him.“What have I done?” Nuri asked.
The officer didn’t answer. He sniggered, put a hood over Nuri’s head, and shoved him into a police vehicle. In the car, Nuri heard the officer talking on his radio, telling someone that he had found Nuri and would put him in with “the others.”
Five other men were being held in the room Nuri was taken to. They were all gay, and several of them had friends in common. “Are we on a list or something?” they asked. “Why us?” The police took the men away and interrogated them individually. “Do you know where you are?” one of the men asked Nuri. “You’re in the Ministry of Interior. You’re in grave trouble.”
Nuri was told that $10,000 would buy his freedom. When he said he barely had any money, he was placed in a cell overnight. The following morning, his interrogators came back and asked if he was sure he didn’t have the money. Nuri said yes, he was sure. The men then handcuffed him, tied a rope around his ankles, threaded the rope through a hook in the ceiling, hoisted him upside down, and stripped him to his underwear. He passed out. When he woke up, he was still suspended in the air. In the evening, the men let Nuri down, and asked him again for the money.
The questioning continued the following day. Nuri’s captors asked for the names and contacts of other gay men, but Nuri refused to divulge any. They called him a tanta—a queen. 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.
At one point, Nuri’s captors took him to the top floor of the ministry building, where, through a small window, he could see the bodies of the five men with whom he had shared a cell. They appeared to have been executed. “It’ll be your turn next,” the men told him.
One of the torturers later got Nuri alone, and told him he would let him out for $5,000. Nuri, with the man’s help, arranged for a friend in London to wire the money to a friend in Iraq, who passed it to the officer. Late one night, 25 days after Nuri had been detained, the man came to Nuri’s cell, led him out of the building, and told him to get into the trunk of his car. He was dropped by the side of a road on the outskirts of the city.
By March, the violence had escalated. At about 2 p.m. on March 6, a gay man in his forties named Sami was sitting in the small Baghdad cell-phone store he had recently opened, when five men entered the store at the same time, handcuffed him, blindfolded him, and abducted him. The men drove him to a building where they tortured and questioned him in much the same manner as Nuri’s captors had. 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.
The men took Sami’s cell phone from his pocket and began going through the names in his contacts list, asking Sami who they were. Many were the numbers of gay friends and lovers, but Sami lied and said they were relatives and friends. 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.
Sami asked the men why they were targeting gays. “They are wrong. They are sinners,” one man said. “They work with the Zionists, with the Americans. They are spies. We need to get rid of them. God sent us from heaven to make everything good, to reform society. We’re killing gays, getting rid of them to make society clean from bad things.”
Several times Sami heard the Shia call to prayer nearby. He concluded he was in a mosque or a hussainiyah, or close to one. His torturers took breaks from the beatings so that they could pray. Sami tried to reason with the men. “If we were created as we are, then what crime have I committed?” he asked. “If you are religious men, and you say my gayness is an illness, then shouldn’t you find a treatment for it? If it’s not an illness, then it’s natural.”
On the fourth day, the kidnappers were paid a ransom of $25,000 and drove Sami to the edge of the city, where he, like Nuri, was left on the side of the road.
Since the deaths of Mazen and Namir, Fadi had tried to stay in the house as much as possible. On the morning of April 7, Fadi’s mother asked him to go to the local grocery store with her. While she was locking the door, Fadi walked ahead. Underneath the gate, he saw an envelope with no name or address written on it. He scooped it up and slid it into the pocket of his jeans.
“What’s that?” his mother asked.
“Nothing,” he said.
When they returned home, Fadi went to the bathroom, locked the door, and opened the envelope. Inside was a sheet of white paper with a message handwritten in rust-colored dried blood: “You’re lucky we are warning you and not killing you immediately. Beware of what you are doing and have done. This is the last warning for you.”
He called Ahmed and told him about the letter. “I didn’t want to tell you,” Ahmed said. “I got a text and a call. Same words.”
In New York, Scott Long began to receive disturbing reports. Long is the director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch, an international nonprofit group with headquarters in the Empire State Building. Since February, Long had been hearing from foreign rights groups about a wave of anti-gay violence in Iraq, but so far the accounts were unsubstantiated. On April 1, one of Long’s colleagues, Rasha Moumneh, was the first person from the organization to be put in touch with a gay Iraqi. It was Nuri. He related what had happened to him and said that he had heard rumors of similar attacks on other gay men. He said the situation was dire. HRW typically investigates human-rights abuses and publishes reports intended to spotlight problems, but the group rarely intervenes directly in a situation. In this case, however, Long decided that if Nuri were left in Iraq, he, and probably many more men like him, could be killed.
Long and Moumneh formulated a plan. They would 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.
On Monday, April 6, Long and his colleagues began posting warnings and requests for information on the 1,100 Iraqi ads on Manjam, an international gay personals site. Over the next two weeks, more than 50 men replied to the HRW notices. One man wrote, in uneven English, about life with his boyfriend:
Always we lived with fear and threat but nowadays the threat become more and more and we faced that when before 3 days when some of persons wearing a black color clothes stopped our car and started to ask us about our names? jobs?, addresses? families? where we go? even about our clothes and why we always togather? and so many harassful questions and at the end they threated us if they watch us togather again they will kill us, they said ‘we will cut your heads off’ and told us they will watch us in everywhere and they wrote us in their blacklist. Since that day we afraid from leaving our homes even to our jobs and we don’t know for how long we can continue and live and nobody can help us and how to help. Please if there is a way to help us try to do and we will be thankful to you until the death because if we don’t get a help we will be dead surely. Thank you.
On the morning of April 7, Long’s phone rang. The young man on the other end of the line was sobbing. Long, who doesn’t speak Arabic, couldn’t understand what he was saying, so Moumneh, who is Lebanese, took the phone. She spoke to the young man and translated for Long. The man’s name was Fadi. Two of his friends had just been murdered. He had been threatened earlier in the day, with a letter written in blood. He was sure he would be killed soon.
Moumneh began calling Fadi and others every day. She advised them to change their appearance: They should wear looser clothes and cut their hair. The word was that the death squads were looking for people with even slightly long hair and tight clothes. Wearing jewelry was unwise, she said. Clean-shaven men were also suspect to the beard-wearing militia members.
Moumneh wired Fadi money to buy a plane ticket to a safer Iraqi city (to protect Fadi and the other gay men who have fled, Long asked that this and other locations in which they have taken refuge not be identified). Fadi told his sister what was going on; he told everyone else he had been threatened because he worked for the Americans in the Green Zone. In the days before he left, Fadi lived in fear. If a car drove by him slowly, he would freeze inside. He couldn’t sleep. He developed a stutter. He stayed at home as much as possible.
Sami, the cell-phone-store owner who had been abducted and beaten, had received one of the messages on Manjam.com offering help. Sami had treasured memories of Iraq—of taking family trips to the Baghdad zoo and visiting Shia shrines. But he knew that life as he knew it in Iraq was over. He felt it was only a matter of time before the kidnappers, torturers, and killers came back for him. He believed he was endangering his family simply by being near them. He e-mailed Moumneh and said he wanted to get out. On April 10, he packed a black sports bag with a pair of jeans, a towel, his toiletries, some shoes, and less than a hundred dollars worth of Iraqi dinars. He told his family he was leaving to seek a fresh start. He was moving to another city in Iraq and eventually, perhaps, to another country. The next morning, Sami got in a taxi and left town.
Long and Moumneh had also wired Nuri money for a plane ticket. Nuri, who had established something of a safe house in Baghdad, spent the next several days trying to locate the men he had helped protect there, but as the purges intensified, those men had dispersed for fear that the house would be discovered. Unable to locate the men, Nuri purchased his ticket and flew to the designated city in Iraq on April 8.
Immediately following his first conversation with Long and Moumneh, Fadi had called Ahmed. “There’s a way out,” he explained. “These people from America are going to send us money, they’re going to meet us in another, safer city in Iraq, and they’re going to help us get to another country.” Ahmed was happy for his friend; but “I can’t leave,” he said. His mother, a widow, was sick. His siblings had left home, so all the care fell to him. He would have to risk it and stay.
On April 13, Fadi’s mother, sister, youngest brother, and two of his cousins drove him to the airport. As his plane took off, Fadi could see Baghdad fading into the distance. Soon, there was nothing but desert beneath him. He knew that he might never see his home again.
When Fadi landed in the safe Iraqi city, he checked into a hotel, and slept for most of two days. He spent the next several days wandering around, still cautious but somewhat relieved, taking in cafés and shops and even a local amusement park. When the staff at the hotel asked him why he was in town, he said he was there for a journalism course.
Long and Moumneh were set to arrive on April 18, and Fadi was excited and nervous to meet the people who he believed had saved his life. That morning, he bought fresh orange juice and strawberries for them. He waited impatiently outside until they got to the hotel. When he saw a white man and a Western-dressed Arab woman get out of a car on the other side of the road, he rushed up and threw his arms around Moumneh.
Long and Moumneh spent two weeks in the Iraqi city. As men arrived from Baghdad and elsewhere in the country, the two aid workers helped them get settled, interviewed them to verify their stories, made arrangements for travel to the safe city in the nearby country, and set up places for them to stay once they got there. At first, Long and Moumneh didn’t introduce the men to each another so that they wouldn’t attract any more attention than necessary from local security officials, especially since a number of the men were staying in the same hotel. Fadi noticed Sami around the hotel after a few days, but the two men weren’t introduced until some time after. (Nuri had come through and moved on to the next city before Fadi and Sami had arrived.)
For the most part, the Iraqi city was a way station, and the men spent their days waiting. Long and Moumneh provided them with living expenses, and took them to a local site or two, but mainly encouraged them to stay indoors and avoid scrutiny. Sami and Fadi quickly became friends. The two men shared their stories, good and bad, of being gay in Iraq, and Sami became something of an older-brother figure to Fadi.
On April 25, Fadi and Sami left Iraq and flew to the city in the region where they now live. Fadi had been dreaming about visiting this city all his life. From the sky, he recognized some of its landmarks. The two men passed through Immigration, and were met in the arrivals hall by a prearranged contact. That evening, Fadi rushed to one of the city’s gay nightclubs and drank and danced, amazed that he could be open about his sexuality. For the first time, he woke up next to someone in the morning.
“Killing gays is halal,” permissible under Islamic law. “We’ll get points in heaven for it.”
This summer, I visited the city where Fadi and Sami were living. All but three of the 26 men who have escaped the purge with the help of Long, Moumneh, and others were there at the time (Nuri and another man had been placed safely in a European country; a third was living in a Middle Eastern nation). Fadi had adjusted quickly to his new home, and was busing tables in a restaurant. Sami had not yet found work. They all worried about how they were going to support themselves, how long they would be living in this limbo, and whether the local police might arrest them and send them back to Iraq. Some had already been stopped by local authorities. One had been beaten up for making an advance to a man on the street. They all lived in bare-bones apartments with few, if any, of the comforts of home. All were hoping for countries like Australia, Canada, Sweden, or the United States to accept them as permanent refugees. But they worried about how they—gay Iraqi men who don’t, for the most part, speak English and are separated from nearly everyone they love and all they grew up with—would make it in Sydney, Toronto, Stockholm, or New York. Unlike most refugees, the gay Iraqis could not rely on being welcomed by their former countrymen on arrival in their host country. Even in a country where being gay is accepted, they believed, non-gay Iraqis would still be hostile to them. I overheard one man say that should he make it to somewhere safe, he didn’t even want to meet other gay Iraqi refugees already there.
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.
At times, the men’s frustration boiled over on the people who helped save them. One day during my visit, I was asked to leave before a meeting between the gay Iraqis and the aid workers helping them got started. I was told later that it had been extremely tense, especially when the aid workers told the men that their monthly stipends would be reduced and that they had to try harder to find work. Later in my visit, Long arrived. To some extent, these men owe him their lives. But I watched as he had to deal with their anger and their fears. There was a tone of resentment in their complaints, as if they had been given false promises of a trouble-free life.
“I’ve made a decision to go back to Iraq,” one young Iraqi told Long, as I sat listening. The man was angry. He’d been stopped twice by the local police, he said. He was sleeping on the floor of his shared apartment. He said he’d been promised that he would meet with the Swedish Embassy as soon as he arrived. “I think I’ve been lied to.”
“It’s going to be hard,” Long told the man, but reassured him that he was “very close” to finding a third country to call home. The man backed off his threat to return to Iraq. Perhaps he believed Long, perhaps he thought the move would be suicidal.
All of the men who had escaped Iraq were still very fragile. The evening after I arrived, I met a slim man in his late twenties named Mukhaled. A driver for a Baghdad delivery company, Mukhaled had been in only one relationship in his life, with a man named Ali whom he met in high school. Ali was a year younger than Mukhaled. They lived in the same neighborhood and, as far as anyone knew, were just friends.
One day in April, armed men burst into Ali’s house and shot him dead. There were incriminating photographs of Mukhaled and Ali in Ali’s bedroom, and other personal information that could lead the death squads to Mukhaled. For the next two and a half months, Mukhaled slept at the homes of different friends, and sometimes in a park. He lost twenty pounds. His black hair became streaked with gray. He worried that people were following him and planning to kill him. And then one day a woman named Rasha called him. She said she had been given his name and number by a gay friend of his. She said she was from New York, but was phoning him from a safe city inside Iraq, and asked if he needed any help. Mukhaled left Baghdad for the safe city inside Iraq on July 3, and moved to the second refuge city shortly after that.
One afternoon, as Mukhaled and I drove around his new city, he took out his cell phone and played me his favorite song: “Un-Break My Heart.” He sang along, in halting English, and I asked him if he knew what the words meant. He said that yes, someone he knew who spoke English had once translated them for him. The song was about a woman mourning the death of her lover. He looked out the car window and resumed his mumbled singing.
Fadi and the others still follow events in Iraq closely. Some of the men who have tortured gay men in Iraq have filmed their acts, and video clips have passed from phone to phone. Fadi had one on his phone, and one morning he and Sami showed it to me.
In the clip, a round-faced boy who looks about 13 or 14 years old is standing in front of a wardrobe in what appears to be a private home. He is in a brown-and-white striped dishdasha, the cotton robe Arab men often wear. He looks terrified.
“Take off your dishdasha,” a voice says from behind the camera, in a commanding tone.
Reluctantly, the boy obeys. He is wearing a bra and what seems to be a pair of large red-and-white women’s underwear.
“What are you?” the voice says. “Are you male or female? Are you a girl or a boy? Why are you wearing female clothes?”
The boy holds the dishdasha in front of his body. “Please don’t do anything to me,” he says.
Someone off-camera thrusts what appears to be a stick or a stiff cable toward the boy. He takes a step back into the corner and gingerly moves the dishdasha away from his body. Standing there naked, he pleads for mercy.
Fadi and Sami told me that the boy had been killed after the tape was made.
On my last afternoon in his adopted, temporary city, I went with Fadi to an Internet café. He called Ahmed, in Baghdad, and asked him to get online so that they could exchange news. The exchange went like this:
AHMED: u wouldn’t believe what they’re doing
AHMED: they r punishing them
FADI: how r they torturing
AHMED: superglue up their arseholes
AHMED: or they make them drink petrol and set them alight
AHMED: so they burn
AHMED: or they stick two people together
AHMED: terrifying situation
FADI: when’s this happening
AHMED: from before but still going on. gays r hiding
AHMED: there r no gays on the street
AHMED: very very few
FADI: when did it start being so bad
AHMED: before u left was nothing
AHMED: imagine I’m even scared of meeting people on manjam
AHMED: or other sites
AHMED: because they could be gangs
FADI: when exactly did the gluing etc start happening
AHMED: once we were in kindi hospital
AHMED: I saw with my own eyes two guys stuck together but they wouldn’t let photograph them
AHMED: I wanted to put them on the internet
FADI: u saw this with own eyes
AHMED: the two in the hospital
FADI: when did u see the two stuck together
AHMED: I don’t remember. believe me
AHMED: I’m scared to go out a lot
I asked Fadi to ask Ahmed how he was doing. He typed the Arabic script into the instant-message box to his friend who was still in the kill zone.
FADI: importantly how r u bearing up
The Iraqi ambassador in Washington, Samir Sumaida’ie, responded to questions for this article with an e-mailed statement, through a spokesman. “Iraqi law does not discriminate against homosexuals,” he said. “Crimes committed against them are not condoned and are treated in the same way as any other common crimes—according to law. Law enforcement, however, sometimes lags behind due to the limitations in the abilities of the security forces. Social attitudes are also an impediment to investigating and prosecuting many cases.”
United States officials have been aware of the gay killings in Iraq for several months and have raised questions about the Iraqi government’s role in the rise in violence and its response to the purges. But the Iraqis sometimes express repulsion at gay people, sources familiar with American diplomatic efforts say. And there is only so far Americans can push the Iraqi government without inadvertently causing a backlash on gay Iraqis. The U.S. State Department says it is working to accept as many Iraqi refugees as it can into the country, but Scott Long insists not enough is being done. “Only in the past year has the U.S. really started meeting its obligations to endangered Iraqis by ramping up the numbers it’s willing to accept. But it’s critical for authorities to commit to recognizing LGBT Iraqis as among those endangered, and as fitting into the U.S. numbers. We’re waiting for a public commitment.”
Fadi and Sami are still living in the safe city abroad. Today, only twelve of the 23 men who had fled there remain. A few went to a Middle Eastern city. Mukhaled and a number of the others returned to Iraq, although they had not gone back to their homes. “Bad as things had been in Iraq,” Long says, “they were still terrified of the future and didn’t feel they had the skills, including language skills, to make it as refugees in a third country.” Long says he remains gravely concerned for the well-being of those who have returned. Nowhere in Iraq is really safe, he says.
Nuri is living in a second city in Europe. Ahmed is still living in Baghdad. Earlier this month I received word from Fadi that Ahmed had been badly beaten on the street a few days earlier. He remains afraid for his life.
Some of the names in this story have been changed to protect the people involved, and some details that might identify them have been omitted for the same reason.