LGBT history in Iraq

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Ancient Mesopotamia[edit]

In the Epic of Gilgamesh, which was composed in the Mesopotamian kingdom of Sumer, the relationship between the main protagonist Gilgamesh and the character Enkidu has been seen by some to be homosexual in nature.[1][2][3][4]

Islam and medieval era[edit]

Islam became a major religion in the region following the first Arab conquest of the region in the 7th century. However, despite the prohibitory nature of Islamic doctrine against homosexuality, the presence of homosexuals in the region continued up to the present.

In the early Safavid era (1501–1723), when the Safavid empire ruled Mesopotamia from 1508–1533, male houses of prostitution (amrad khane) were legally recognized and paid taxes.

Ottoman and British rules[edit]

In 1858, the Ottoman Empire, which ruled the area of modern-day Iraq as part of Ottoman Iraq province, abolished its existing sodomy laws. The assumption of control over the three vilayets of the province by the British (as a League of Nations mandate known as the British Mandate of Mesopotamia) imposed anti-sodomy laws on the province which would remain well after independence in 1932.

Ba'athist era[edit]

The 1969 Penal Code enacted by the Ba'athists was silent on the subject of homosexual relations between consenting, non-commercial, non-fraternal, adults in private. This status appears to have continued in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, though no support groups or human rights organizations for LGBT people existed and gay and bisexual men were often harassed, murdered or blackmailed into becoming spies for the regime because of both the prevailing anti-gay social prejudice as well as vague laws dealing with public morality and national security.[5] In the summer of 1993 compulsory religious education was introduced into Iraqi schools. Nightclubs accused of harboring prostitutes were closed and the constitution was amended to include the death penalty for homosexuality.[6]

In the United Nations, the Iraqi delegation cited religion at the time as their reasoning for opposing efforts to have the international body support gay rights, once again shattering the widely held view of Saddam as a secularist.[7]

Laws were enacted reducing (or even eliminating) the penalties for the practice known as "honor killings" in the period between the early 1990s and 2003, and thus an Iraqi could face being murdered by their kin with relative impunity for bringing dishonor to their family. In practice many such incidents did not result in criminal proceedings being brought against the alleged perpetrator. The two major targets of honor killings were women, deemed to be immoral, as well as LGBT people by the Fedayeen Saddam also acting as a sort of Mutaween (religious police) with the public decapitation of 200 prostitutes in October 2000 and stonings and throwing from buildings (the sharia punishments) people for sodomy.[8][9]

In 2001, the IRCC Resolution 234 of 2001 was enacted that established the death penalty for adultery, being involved with prostitution, and anyone who, "Commits the crime of sodomy with a male or female or who violates the honor of a male or female without his or her consent and under the threat of arm or by force in a way that the life of the victim (male or female) is threatened" [1]

While this law has been cited, by some international groups, as a ban on homosexuality, this Resolution would seem to only prohibit homosexual or heterosexual sodomy that did not involve consent or that did involve adultery or prostitution.

2003 Occupation of Iraq[edit]

When Coalition Provisional Authority chief executive Paul Bremer took control of Iraq in 2003 he issued a series of decrees that restored the Iraqi criminal code back to its original 1969 edition, abolished the death penalty (which the newly formed Iraqi government restored in 2005), and removed most restrictions on free speech and assembly.

On February 5, 2005 the IRIN issued a report titled "Iraq: Male homosexuality still a taboo." The article stated, among other things, that "honor killings" by Iraqis against a gay family member are common and given some legal protection. The article also stated that the 2001 amendment to the criminal code stipulating the death penalty for homosexuality "has not been changed", even through Paul Bremer clearly ordered the criminal code to go back to its original 1969 edition.[10]

Since 2005 there have been reports that the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq's Badr Organization has been involved in death squad campaigns against LGBT Iraqi citizens, and that they are supported in these policies by the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.[11] New barbaric attacks, with 90 victims, are reported in the first months of 2012.[12]

These reports seem to stem from a fatwa issued by Iraqi cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani stating that homosexuality and lesbianism are both "forbidden" and that they should be "Punished, in fact, killed. The people involved should be killed in the worst, most severe way of killing".[13]

Early drafts in English of the 2005 Iraqi constitution contained a provision that asserted that none of the rights or liberties protected in the Constitution would apply to "deviants". Later revisions of the Iraqi Constitution removed the deviants clause. Several clauses throughout the revised document assert that Islam will be the foundation of the law and that various civil liberties shall be limited by "public morality".44


The so-called "emo" killings, in which as many as 70 teenagers accused of homosexuality on the basis of their clothing were murdered by Shiite death squads, were condemned by human rights groups outside of Iraq.


  1. ^ Dynes, Wayne R.; Donaldson, Stephen (1992). "Introduction". Homosexuality in the Ancient World. Garland Publishing. pp. vii–xv. ISBN 978-0-8153-0546-0. 
  2. ^ Held, George F. (183). Wayne R. Dynes & Stephen Donaldson, ed. Parallels between The Gilgamesh Epic and Plato's Symposium. pp. 199–207. 
  3. ^ Kilmer, Anne Draffkorn (1992). Wayne R. Dynes and Stephen Donaldson, ed. A Note on an Overlooked Word-Play in the Akkadian Gilgamesh. Garland Publishing, Inc. p. 264. 
  4. ^ Thorbjørnsrud, Berit (1992). What Can the Gilgamesh Myth Tell Us about Religion and the View of Humanity in Mesopotamia?. Garland Publishing, Inc. p. 452. 
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ 'The Occupation of Iraq: Winning the war, losing the peace' by Ali Allawi; 'Republic of Fear' by Kanan Makiya page 215;
  8. ^ – page 55
  9. ^
  10. ^ IRIN Middle East | Middle East | Iraq | IRAQ: Male homosexuality still a taboo | Human Rights |Feature
  11. ^ Direland: Shia Death Squads Target Iraqi Gays – U.S. Indifferent
  12. ^ Iraq was already Hell for gays, now it's even worse, in MOI Musulmani Omosessuali in Italia
  13. ^ Iraqi cleric wants gays killed in "most severe way" | News |