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Baghdad demands apology after EU embassies raise 'LGBTQ rainbow flag' in Iraqi capital

The move marked the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia [Getty]

Date of publication: 18 May, 2020

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An LGBTQ flag that was raised by western diplomats in Iraq's capital Baghdad prompted a swift backlash online, forcing the missions to U-turn on the move.
The embassies of Canada, the UK and the EU in Iraq have deleted a controversial tweet that showed the missions raising a "LGBTQ banner" alongside the Iraqi flag in the capital Baghdad.

The rainbow flag was raised in Baghdad on Sunday to mark the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, prompting both praise and a severe backlash from Iraqis online.

"Together with @CanadainIraq and @UKinIraq, today in Baghdad we join EU Delegations worldwide in raising the rainbow flag to mark the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia and highlight the rights of Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender people," the European Union Delegation to the Republic of Iraq said in a tweet on Sunday, which was also translated into Arabic.

While some received the gesture positively, others - including leading Iraqi politicians and figures - unleashed a barrage of criticism at the European Union Delegation, which spearheaded the move.

Iraq's foreign ministry issued a statement on Sunday to denounce the the raising of the flags, which it said was against "the noble morals of all divine religions".

"We remind all the missions operating in Iraq to adhere by the laws of the country, and to follow diplomatic norms," it said.

Deputy Speaker of Parliament Bashir Hadad, meanwhile, described the move as a "clear provocation to the feelings of the Iraqi people".

"We do not allow the hoisting of the homosexual flag on our land […] We have directed the foreign relations, religious affairs, and other relevant committees to take the necessary measures against this behaviour," he said in a statement.

"The [EU] mission must immediately lower the flag and apologise for their action which should not be repeated again," he added.

Influential Shia cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr's Sairoon bloc claimed the gesture was "unacceptable", coming during the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

"We refuse and condemn any behaviour that contradicts the culture and religion of the Iraq people. We ask the European mission in Iraq to lower the flag," read a Sairoon statement.

"We are in a blessed and holy month for all Muslims, and the foreign diplomatic missions in Iraq need to take into account the peculiarities of Muslim peoples," it added. 

The cleric later issued a series of tweets on his official account, in which he took aim at the LGBTQ community saying they were "mentally ill and in need of recovery and guidance".

The raising of the flag was an "attack on all People of the Book, not just Muslims", he added, referring to Christians and Jews.

Despite the uproar from some conservative segments of Iraq's political establishment, other Twitter users praised the gesture.

"I hope that Iraq will someday be a tolerant place for all Orientations and genders , a very good step," one Twitter user said.

"Wow, there are people speaking on behalf of the Iraqi people as if they were asked personally asked. Leave people alone and learn to accept those that are different from you," another user said.

There is no direct legal provision in Iraq banning same-sex relations, but the law does criminalise extra-marital bonds.

LGBT activists say rights for their community are non-existent in the Iraq, where homosexuality, transgenderism, and cross dressing are highly taboo among Muslims and minority Christians alike.

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