Emo killings in Iraq

Coordinates: 33°19′30″N 44°25′19″E / 33.325°N 44.422°E / 33.325; 44.422
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33°19′30″N 44°25′19″E / 33.325°N 44.422°E / 33.325; 44.422

Emo Killings in Iraq
LocationBaghdad, Iraq
DateMarch 2012
TargetIraqi teenage boys who dressed in an emo style
Attack type
Homicide, Torture, Kidnapping
WeaponsCement blocks
DeathsBetween 6 and 70
MotiveAttack on Western culture and association of emo with homosexuality

The emo killings in Iraq were a string of homicides that were part of a campaign against Iraqi teenage boys who dressed in an emo style carried out by paramilitary groups as an attack on Western culture. Between 6 and 70[1] young men were kidnapped, tortured and murdered in Baghdad and Iraq during March 2012.[2][3][4] In September 2012, BBC News reported that gay men in Baghdad said the killings had not abated.[5]


The emo subculture gained popularity among Iraqi teens in 2011.[6] Earlier, it had become popular in other Arab countries. Emo, an offshoot of alternative rock music,[7] is associated in most of the world with teen fashion and alienation, but in the Arab world is also strongly associated with homosexuality and satanism.[8] Homosexuality is not illegal in Iraq but it is taboo, and many LGBT (lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender) people in Iraq are discriminated against, abused or murdered.[9][10] Activists say anti-gay harassment has increased since the invasion of Iraq and subsequent Iraq War, with gay Iraqis being bullied and harassed by security forces, and beaten and killed by reactionary paramilitary groups in heavily Shiite areas of Baghdad since at least 2006.[2][11]

In February 2012, the Baghdad Morality Police published a statement on the Iraqi Interior Ministry website criticizing emo teens for wearing "strange, tight clothes with pictures of skulls on them," and "rings in their noses and tongues." The statement condemned emo as Satanic, and quoted Colonel Mushtaq Taleb al-Mahemdawi as saying the Morality Police had been given official approval by the Interior Ministry "to eliminate [the phenomenon] as soon as possible since it's detrimentally affecting the society and becoming a danger."[12] The New York Times reported that in the weeks following, anti-emo flyers threatening death "unless gay men cut their hair, stopped wearing the clothing of devil worshippers and stopped listening to metal, emo and rap music", began appearing in neighbourhoods across Baghdad.[2]


Interior Ministry security officers say the number of dead is six. However, the Reuters news agency reported that hospital and security officials put the number at 14 or more, and human rights groups such as the BRussells Tribunal said that the body count could be as high as 100.[13] The Associated Press reported that an unnamed Interior Ministry official put the number at 58, and said all but one were male.[14] According to the BBC, the United Nations puts the number of dead at at least 12, but believes the real number is much higher.[5]

The dead were found in dumpsters, after having been beaten to death with cement blocks[15][16] in a practice known as "death by blocking" or "mawt al-blokkah".[17] A person who told the Beirut-based newspaper Al Akhbar that he had escaped an attack said that, "first they throw concrete blocks at the boy's arms, then at his legs, then the final blow is to his head, and if he is not dead then, they start all over again."[18]

Responsibility for the murders[edit]

International human rights groups have called on Iraqi authorities to investigate the killings,[19] saying they are the work of paramilitary groups and the police,[11] including groups such as the Mahdi Army, created in 2003 by popular Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.[2] Iraqi commentators and American professor of Middle Eastern history Mark Levine have speculated that deploying paramilitary groups against emo kids serves Iraqi authorities' interests by keeping the groups occupied, and deflecting their anger and unhappiness from other possible targets in chaotic post-war Iraq.[17] Iraqi television network Al Sumaria reported that Sadr denied responsibility for the deaths, calling the emo teens fools and unnatural but saying they should be dealt with through legal means.[2][15][16]

Following coverage of the murders, Iraqi officials denied there is any campaign to kill gay or emo teenagers,[20] and said the story has been made up to serve anti-religious, anti-government agendas. They say emo teens can dress as they please, and that the government will protect them.[2][15][16]

In September 2012, the BBC interviewed 17 gay men and former policemen in Baghdad, all of whom had friends or boyfriends killed, and reported that all blamed the Iraqi Interior Ministry for inciting the murders, and said arrests and killings are still ongoing.[5]


In May 2012 as a result of the emo killings, according to the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, the Dutch government "expanded" its asylum policy towards LGBT Iraqis.[21]

The U.S. State department's 2013 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Iraq reported that in 2013, Iraq's Council of Ministers established an inter-ministerial committee that issued a statement saying LGBT people are "no different" from others, and that established a charter to describe the baseline protection owed to them.[22]


Israeli intelligence analyst Daniel Brode claims the murders are part of an overall shift inside the Iraqi Shiite-Arab population towards becoming "more religious, more conservative and more assertive," with the goal of consolidating its own power by creating a "fundamentalist Shiite government."[23]

Before the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, sexual minorities there enjoyed a fair amount of freedom.[24] But the invasion brought to power the conservative Islamic Dawa Party[24] and Human Rights Watch says that since 2004, hundreds of Iraqi gay men have been killed. The campaign has been said to be led by the Mahdi Army, with Iraqi security forces said to have "colluded and joined in the killing." Witnesses told Human Rights Watch the killers break into houses and pick up people in the street, interrogating them to extract the names of other victims, and then kill them and mutilate their bodies.[25]

By 2007, according to the London-based human rights organization Iraqi LGBT, Iraqi political and religious organizations had launched an organised, coordinated campaign to hunt, arrest, torture and kill everyone they perceived as gay. Iraqi LGBT says the Iraqi government forces gay people to give names and addresses of other gays, then arrests them and hands them over to paramilitary groups to be murdered.[26]

In The Guardian newspaper, American human rights activist Scott Long described Iraq as "a devastated society with a broken political process and a fractured public" and said "it's not just wrong, it's counterproductive to call these murders "gay killings."" He called on Iraq to begin a debate about difference, saying "Iraqis need to discuss why the horrors of the last four decades have made otherness seem intolerable."[27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Iraq's Emo killings: A horror story out of control?". BBC News. 21 March 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Healy, Jack (11 March 2012). "Killings Strike Fear in Iraqi Gay and Emo Youth". The New York Times. Retrieved 11 March 2012.
  3. ^ "MP slams as "crime" killings of "emo" youths". Aswat al-Iraq. 11 March 2012. Archived from the original on 18 February 2013. Retrieved 12 March 2012.
  4. ^ Tawfeeq, Mohammed (11 March 2012). "Iraqi murders put gay and emo youth on edge". CNN. Retrieved 12 March 2012.
  5. ^ a b c Antelava, Natalia (12 September 2012). "BBC investigation reveals police persecution of gays in Iraq". BBC News. Retrieved 27 September 2012.
  6. ^ "Iraq's Emo Youth Fear Threats". 23 March 2012. Retrieved 7 April 2021.
  7. ^ "The Evolution of Emo and its Theoretical implications" (PDF). Retrieved 7 April 2021.
  8. ^ Bambury, Brent (17 March 2012). "Iraq emo killings: Associated Press Bureau Chief in Baghdad Lara Jakes talks about emo culture in Iraq (audio report)". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation | CBC Radio. Retrieved 27 September 2012.
  9. ^ "Iraqi 'emo' youths reportedly killed by conservative militias". BBC News. 11 March 2012. Retrieved 11 March 2012.
  10. ^ France, David (January 2007). "Dying to Come Out: The War on Gays in Iraq". GQ. Retrieved 21 July 2010.
  11. ^ a b Taete, Jamie Lee Curtis (9 March 2012). "IS THE IRAQI GOVERNMENT KILLING LGBT PEOPLE?". Vice magazine. Retrieved 11 March 2012.
  12. ^ Abramovitch, Seth (10 March 2012). "Truth Check: Is Iraq Killing Hundreds of Emo Teens?". The Atlantic. Retrieved 7 April 2021.
  13. ^ "Emerging from Iraq: Reports of Kidnapping and Murder of Gay and Lesbian People". International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. Archived from the original on 12 March 2012. Retrieved 11 March 2012.
  14. ^ Associated Press (11 March 2012). "Violent 'Emo Killings' Rattle Iraqi Youth". NPR. Retrieved 12 March 2012.
  15. ^ a b c "Dozens of Iraqi teenagers stoned to death for 'emo' haircuts: activists". Al Arabiya News. 9 March 2012. Retrieved 11 March 2012.
  16. ^ a b c "'Emo' killings in Iraq create different reactions among religious clerics". Al Arabiya News. 10 March 2012. Archived from the original on 11 March 2012. Retrieved 11 March 2012.
  17. ^ a b Levine, Mark (20 March 2012). "Killing emos, and the future, in Iraq". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 26 March 2012.
  18. ^ "Iraqi teenagers stoned to death for "emo" haircuts". Al Akhbar. 9 March 2012. Archived from the original on 11 March 2012. Retrieved 12 March 2012.
  19. ^ "Rights groups urge Iraq to investigate 'emo' killings". Al Arabiya. Agence France-Presse. 16 March 2012. Archived from the original on 25 March 2012. Retrieved 26 March 2012.
  20. ^ Ruhayem, Rami (20 March 2012). "Iraq's Emo killings: A horror story out of control?". BBC News. Retrieved 26 March 2012.
  21. ^ "Iraq Baseline Study 2013" (PDF). The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC). Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 October 2013. Retrieved 16 April 2014.
  22. ^ "Iraq Human Rights Report 2013" (PDF). United States Department of State • Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. Retrieved 16 April 2014.
  23. ^ Brode, Daniel (21 March 2012). "Iraq: The Next Shiite Islamic Republic?". Middle East Online. Archived from the original on 22 December 2015. Retrieved 26 March 2012.
  24. ^ a b "Witch-hunt in Iraq". BBC News. 12 September 2012. Retrieved 7 April 2021.
  25. ^ "Anti-gay attacks on rise in Iraq". BBC News. 17 August 2009. Retrieved 27 September 2012.
  26. ^ Hilli, Ali (11 September 2012). "Viewpoint: Iraqi gays in 'hell on earth'". BBC News. Retrieved 27 September 2012.
  27. ^ Long, Scott (18 March 2012). "Massacre of emos in Iraq goes to core of a damaged society". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 July 2012.