Amnesty International has taken the unusual step of writing to Iraqi president Nouri al-Maliki to demand “urgent and concerted action” by his government to stop the killings of gay men in the country.

Although confusion has led to conflicted reports over the numbers being killed, Amnesty believes the murders have been carried out by militiamen and relatives of the victims, after being incited by religious leaders.

Earlier this month, two gay men were found dead in the Baghdad Shiite slum of Sadr City following condemnations of homosexuality by a leading local cleric.

Reports suggest a further four were murdered in March after the Shiite cleric Sattar al-Battat allegedly repeatedly condemned homosexuality in Friday prayers.

According to the Independent, Amnesty’s letter to Mr Al-Maliki accuses his government of failing to condemn the killings publicly or to investigate the murders.

It also suggested that evidence shows police are encouraged to target gay men and calls for officers who incite homophobic attacks to be “held to account and either prosecuted or disciplined and removed from office”.

Niall Couper, a spokesperson from Amnesty International, said: “The gay community in Iraq deserves protection and that means their leaders needs to stand up for them. Amnesty International is calling on Nouri al-Maliki to condemn all attacks on members of the gay community, publicly, unreservedly and in the strongest terms possible.”

Writing for PinkNews.co.uk in February, human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell claimed: “Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, homophobia and the terrorisation of LGBT people has got much worse.

“The western invasion of Iraq in 2003 ended the tyrannical Baathist dictatorship. But it also destroyed a secular state, created chaos and lawlessness and allowed the flourishing of religious fundamentalism. The result has been an Islamist-inspired homophobic terror campaign against LGBT Iraqis.”

“Queers are being shot dead in their homes, streets and workplaces,” he added.

“Even suspected gay children are being murdered. They killers claim to be doing these assassinations at the behest of the ‘democratic’ Iraqi government, in order to eradicate what they see as immoral, un-Islamic behaviour.”