Iraqi militias are increasingly torturing and executing men suspected of homosexuality but the authorities in Baghdad are doing nothing to stop the violence, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Monday.
The New-York based group said hundreds of men have been kidnapped, tortured and killed this year in a wave of violence that began in the Baghdad Sadr City stronghold of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi army militia.
The report, released in Lebanon and entitled "'They want us exterminated': Murder, Torture, Sexual Orientation and Gender in Iraq'," said it is almost impossible to calculate how many men were killed, but estimated the figure in the hundreds.
Mahdi army spokesmen have suggested that military action was the remedy for the "feminisation" of Iraq men, according to the report in which survivors are quoted as saying militiamen invade homes and interrogate victims before killing them in order to identify other potential victims.
HRW said Iraqi doctors and morgue employees also have records of grotesque torture marks on the bodies of men, including mutilation and even anuses glued shut.
Motives for the murders include "fears that Iraqi men's masculinity is under threat," HRW reported.
It also said some of the murders were so-called honour killings, carried out by victims' family members "because 'unmanly' behaviour threatens the reputation of the family or tribe."
Some Iraqis the rights group interviewed charged that in some cases members of the security forces had colluded and even joined in the killing.
"Iraq?s leaders are supposed to defend all Iraqis, not abandon them to armed agents of hate," Scott Long, director of HRW's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Programme, said.
"Turning a blind eye to torture and murder threatens the rights and life of every Iraqi."
The report said men have fled to neighbouring countries, despite consensual homosexual activity being illegal in regional states such as Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon, even though it is not a criminal offence under Iraqi law.
"Although many militias in Iraq claim to be enforcers of Islamic law, the Human Rights Watch report also shows how the killings -- committed without evidence or trial, on the basis of prejudice and whim -- violate standards in sharia law for legality, proof and privacy," the report said.