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APRIL 18, 2003
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May be too soon to address gay issues in Iraq
GAYS IN IRAQ, continued from Page 8
official position on gay rights in Iraq,
Secretary of State Colin Powell and the
Bush administration believe a democratic
government in Iraq will lead to human
rights protections for "all people," according to State Department spokesperson Jo
"The State Department will monitor
the new Iraqi government's record on
human rights along with the human rights
records of countries around the globe,"
Prokopowica said, as part of the department's Congressional mandate to prepare
annual human rights reports for countries
receiving U.S. foreign aid.
Too soon for gay rights
An official with the Iraqi National
Congress, a U.S.-backed Iraqi exile group
that hopes to play a key role in a future government in Iraq, said his organization is
urging international human rights groups
such as Amnesty International to come to
Iraq to monitor human rights issues.
But the official, Mazin Youssef, the
IRC's U.S. West Coast representative, said
his organization has no position on gay
rights in Iraq.
"That becomes more of a touchy situation," he said. "It will take a few more years
before we can address that question."
Youssef said Hussein decreed a law in
the early 1970s that made both homosexual
acts and incest capital offenses punishable
by death. He said he doesn't know if anyone was actually executed in Iraq under
The Iraqi National Congress, Youssef
said, is calling for a democratic, secular
government for Iraq. The INC and other
Iraqi exile groups have said a secular state
is needed to prevent radical Shiite clerics
from forming a repressive religious state
like Iran, where gays and other minorities
"We feel religion should be respected but
not integrated into the state," Youssef said.
Zakharia said many Iraqis view the
INC as a "stooge" of the U.S. government
and would never support the organization
or its leader, Ahmad Chalabi, whom the
U.S. brought to Iraq last week on a military
"Unfortunately, for gays, I don't see
much change coming in Iraq," Zakharia
said. "Change must occur through a
truly grass roots democracy, not from a
top-down government imposed by the
Gay journalist and Arab American
Mubarak Dahir, who writes commentaries for the gay press, said he shares
Zakahaia's pessimism over the prospects
for meaningful improvements for gays
"To think any government change in
the short term will secure the rights of
gays and lesbians in Iraq is unbelievably
naive," Dahir said. "In the Middle East, it's
the family unit that dictates the direction
of a country"
Dahir, who travels frequently to the
Middle East, said families and tribal communities in Arab countries have widely
differing views about democracy and indi:
vidual rights. He said the U.S. lacks credibility among pro-democracy Arabs who
see the U.S. backing repressive regimes in
countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia,
which openly persecute gays, while claiming to favor democracy in Iraq.
"They think all of this talk of the U.S.
being the big democratizer of the Middle
East is a lot of baloney," Dahir said.
Youssef, of the Iraqi National Congress,
disputes Dahir and Zakharia's assessment
of the Iraqi people. He said a large portion
of the Iraqi population viewed the U.S.
invasion as a necessary evil to rid the
country of Saddam and his despised Baath
Party henchmen, who were responsible for
the imprisonment and murder of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.
"You can't say for a fact that all Iraqis
oppose our group," Youssef said. "People
who are happy with the liberation of Iraq
would rather see someone close to the U.S.
be in charge. We lobbied the U.S. to help
Moore, of the IGLHRC, said the group's
longstanding policy has been to become
involved in gay issues in a country after
gay residents seek the group's help.
"We put out action alerts only after
someone on the ground informs us of a
problem," she said.
Moore said IGLHRC has not received
any requests from gay Iraqis, although it
routinely receives requests for help from
gays in other Middle Eastern countries
like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Egypt. Most of
the requests come via e-mail, she said.
One of the group's greatest concerns,
Moore said, is that it not impose a "Western
import" of sexual orientation on gays with
cultures that differ greatly from that of the
U.S. and other Western nations.
"Our top priority is not to seem like we
are importing Western values on indigenous peoples," she said.
But Moore added, "It is everyone's hope
that we can help to establish a representative democracy in a country like Iraq,
which has never had this before."
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