The lesbian and gay community in Iraq have called for urgent action from the international community to protect LGBT people in the country.

The groups have labelled the violence in Iraq aimed at gay people “sexual cleansing,” and say that the number of victims is growing on a daily basis.

Mustafa Salim, the spokesman for the Rainbow for Life Organisation (RLO) told IRIN:

“In the past three months, more than 30 gays have been executed in Baghdad. The bodies have been found tortured, mutilated – sometimes with signs of rape.

“Notes were found near some of the bodies with messages saying that this is going to be the fate for any Muslim who denies the Islamic religion.”

Salim claims that since RLO began in 2005 they have recorded more than 230 cases of abuse against gays and lesbians, including more than 64 deaths.

The last three months have seen the most bloodshed.

Salim criticises the government for refusing to offer any protection to its LGBT citizens.

“The gay community continues to be subjected to systematic terror by Shia militias, especially the Mahdy Army controlled by the religious leader Muqtada al-Sadr.”

In one interview with IRIN, a member of the Mahdy Army, Ali Hassany, said that the militia will target Iraq’s gays and lesbians.

He said: “They deserve death. Those people are an embarrassment to our society. Killing such people is a job for their families, but if they cannot do so by their own hands, we will do it.”

The RLO is forced to keep a low profile for security reasons. The location of its offices is unknown, and it maintains clandestine contact with victims and volunteers.

Salim said: “Four of our volunteers have been killed since 2005 and many threats have been received, but we will not stop trying to help those people.

“They don’t have anyone to help them and even the government considers them victims of common violence rather than victims of special targeting.”

The Iraqi Ministry of the Interior claims that the problem is general and related to sectarian violence, not the gay community.

Lt. Col. Hussein Jaboury from the ministry told IRIN: “All Iraqis might be victims of violence. We cannot afford protection to a special group because the situation is delicate for all Iraqis and we cannot confirm that they have been targeted for being gays or lesbians.”

But a report released in January by The United Nations Assistance Mission to Iraq acknowledged that gays and lesbians are being targeted by the militias.

The report said: “Armed Islamic groups and militias have been known to be particularly hostile towards homosexuals, frequently and openly engaging in violent campaigns against them.

“There have been a number of assassinations of homosexuals in Iraq. We were also alerted to the existence of religious courts, supervised by religious scholars, where homosexuals allegedly would be ‘tried’, ‘sentenced’ to death and then executed.”

Last year, PinkNews.co.uk reported that the Iraqi Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani had issued a fatwa against lesbian and gay people on his website.

The statement caused a surge in homophobic violence both in Iraq, and in Muslim communities in the UK.

The cleric answered the question “What is your judgement on sodomy and lesbianism?” with the words “Forbidden. Those involved in the act should be punished. In fact, sodomites should be killed in the worst possible manner.”

He was nominated in Iraq for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005.