Homosexuals across the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, are being targeted and murdered by Islamic militants and the police.

Inhabitants of the Al-Amiriya and Al-Jamia’a neighbourhoods have told of how extremist groups have raped and beheaded gays in the street and also targeted their relatives.

Under Saddam’s regime, gays were imprisoned. However, the Iraqi constitution approved by referendum in December 2005, refers to Islam as being “the official religion of the state and a basic source of legislation”.

Under Sharia law, homosexuality is punishable by death. The recent “hunting-down” has received a blessing from one of the highest religious authorities in Iraq, Ayatollah Ali Sistani.

There is concern about the involvement of policemen in criminal acts have also been raised by western officials and Sunni Arab leaders.

Sunnis say the Shia-controlled interior ministry has been infiltrated by Shia militias, such as the Badr Brigades, who allegedly use their uniforms as cover to kidnap, torture and murder.

OutRage!, the gay human rights group, has reported on a fatwa imposed on gays in October 2005.

A website linked to Sistani in the Iranian city of Qom wrote: “The people involved [in homosexuality] should be killed in the worst, most severe way”

Although the text was removed from the website in May 2006, the fatwa has not been officially revoked.

Outrage! has also reported of cases where family members of gay male relatives have been murdered for refusing to hand them over to the militia.