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The Hunted


Fadi and his friends used to meet at the Shisha café in Baghdad. The café has since closed and reopened.  

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 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.


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