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The Hunted

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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: wwwwwwwwow
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
AHMED: sooooooo
AHMED: tired

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.


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