A Spreading Campaign
A campaign of systematic killings gathered gradually in strength through the early months of 2009.
Militia attacks on men who look "effeminate," or who are shadowed by suspicion of engaging in same-sex relations, have been an intermittent aspect of the murderous climate in Iraq for at least five years. Yet the people we interviewed testified to a radically new intensity to these attacks this year-an expanded scope and reach of killings, and a monitory public purpose: to enforce "morality," or a brutal perversion of it, through murder.
Idris is 35 and a friend of Hamid. He has relationships with other men but also has a wife and children. He told us in April:
We've been hearing about this, about gay men being killed, for more than a month. It's like background noise now, every day. The stories started spreading in February about this campaign against gay people by the Mahdi Army: everyone was talking about it, I was hearing about it from my straight friends. In a coffee shop in Karada they were talking about it; on the streets in Harithiya they were talking about it. I didn't worry at first. My friends and I, we look extremely masculine, there is nothing visibly "feminine" about us. None of us ever, ever believed this would happen to us. But then at the end of March we heard on the street that 30men had been killed already.
Bilal, 27 years old, a street salesman in the Karada neighborhood of Baghdad, says that he first sensed an atmosphere of mounting danger when "A friend of mine was killed three months ago."
He was very public, everybody knew he was gay. His family said his killers made a CD of how he was killed-they filmed it. They slaughtered him; they cut his throat. His family did not want to talk about it. And now they are killing people right and left in Shaab and al-Thawra. We heard 11 men were burned alive in al-Thawra. Everyone is talking about the numbers of people killed. And they just keep rising. 
Hussein, 27 and from the Mansour district of Baghdad, told us that, through the first months of the year, the violence metastasized from target to target, running through a roster of supposed signs of nonconformity. First "they went after people with long hair, so people got short haircuts right and left. A friend of mine was threatened: he had long hair: he lived in a Shi'a neighborhood, Abu Chir, next to Dora. Someone told him on the street that he had to cut his hair or they would cut off his head."
Then people started gossiping, saying, there are guys who wear sanitary pads to make their asses look bubblier-so anybody with tight jeans was a target. And then you heard that tight T-shirts meant you were a member of the third sex.
Everyone killed in the first period was in Shi'a neighborhoods-Hurriya, al-Bada', Sadr City. But not anymore. For instance, three days ago in my neighborhood, Hayy al-Jami'a, they found the body of a gay man who was decapitated. The common talk about him in the neighborhood had always been that he was gay. And this story spread like wildfire. It's a Sunni district. But the way they operate now is, it seems, they go into a neighborhood, kidnap someone, take him to Sadr City, and torture and kill him. And then they dump the body in Sadr City, or back where he lived.
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