Moqtada Sadr, a radical Shiite cleric in Iraq, has ordered that the “depravity” of homosexuality must be eradicated, yet urged an end to violence against gays and lesbians.

His spokesman Sheikh Wadea al-Atab said today that a series of meetings are being held with clerics, tribal leaders and police to tackle the “phenomenon”.

According to AFP, Atabi said: “The purpose of the meetings is to fight the depravity and to urge the community to reject this phenomenon. The only remedy to stop it is through preaching and guidance. There is no other way to put an end to it.”

Regarding the recent killings of six gay men in Sadr city, on the outskirts of Baghdad, Atabi said: “Al-Sadr rejects this type of violence … and anyone who commits violence [against gays] will not be considered as being one of us.”

Homosexuality is not illegal in Iraq but religious leaders condemn it.

Two gay men were found dead in the Baghdad Shiite slum of Sadr City In April following condemnations of homosexuality by a leading local cleric.

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

Following reports of the murders, Amnesty International took 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.

The letter 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.”