Types of criminalisation

  • Criminalises LGBT people
  • Criminalises sexual activity between males
  • Criminalises sexual activity between females

Same-sex sexual activity is explicitly prohibited in Iraq, since the Iraqi Parliament passed an amendment to a 1988 anti-prostitution law in April 2024. Before this law was passed, certain offences in the Penal Code 1969, such as those criminalising ‘immodest acts’ and ‘prostitution’, as well as Sharia law, were used to criminalise LGBT people. Both men and women are criminalised under the new law. Transgender people are also explicitly criminalised.

There is some evidence of the Penal Code 1969 being enforced in recent years, with LGBT people being occasionally subject to arrest. During ISIS’ control of Iraq, there were reports of the death penalty being imposed against LGBT people under a strict interpretation of Sharia law. There have been consistent reports of discrimination and violence being committed against LGBT people in recent years, including frequent murders, assaults, and harassment.



The US Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices reported that at least 20 people were prosecuted as a result of a campaign led by the Ministry of Interior to crack down on “indecent content.” According to the same report, in July, the Presidency of the Cassation Court in Erbil affirmed a judgment of the Sulaymaniya Preliminary Court to dissolve Rasan Organization due to “its activities in the field of homosexuality.” It was also reported that in September, two transgender makeup artists in Erbil were arrested, detained in jail for five days, and subjected to forced medical examinations.


In April, it was reported that several LGBT people had been arrested by Kurdish security forces in the city of Sulaymaniyah. Local security forces told  media that the arrests had occurred as part of an operation to arrest people they suspected of being LGBT and for immorality.

“Following the meeting of the High Security Committee of Sulaymaniyah and after securing the permission from the investigating prosecutor of Sulaymaniyah, it was decided that tonight an operation be carried out to prevent those who are homosexuals in the city of Sulaymaniyah and this operation is with the cooperation of all the security forces,” Pshtiwan Bahadin, head of the operation, told local website Rachlaken during live Facebook coverage on the evening of the arrests.


The US Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices noted offences such as public indecency and prostitution are used to prosecute such conduct. However, the same charges were applied to heterosexual people who engaged with extra-marital sex. 


ILGA’s 2017 State-Sponsored Homophobia Report indicated that Sharia judges have ordered the execution of numerous men and women for same-sex intimacy and that LGBT people have been subjected to violence by both police and local militias. LGBT people have also been targeted in ISIS-held areas in Northern Iraq.

The US Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices found that militia groups drafted LGBT ‘kill lists’ and executed men perceived to be LGBT. ISIS continued to publish videos of violent executions of people perceived to be gay, including by stoning and being thrown from buildings.

Discrimination and Violence


The US Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices reported that despite repeated threats and violence against LGBT people, the government repeatedly fails to prosecute those who have attacked LGBT people. It also reported that some political parties have sought to justify these attacks.

In September, Noor Alsaffar, a 23-year-old prominent TikToker who self-described himself as a cross-dresser and makeup artist, was shot dead by an unknown individual in the streets of Baghdad in what appears to be a hate crime based on gender expression. Police confirmed that the crime was under investigation.

In February, Human Rights Watch reported that social media and same-sex dating applications have been used by armed groups to extort LGBT people, and enable their arrest and prosecution. It also reported that once detained, LGBT people were often tortured.


Research from Human Rights Watch found evidence of killings, abductions, torture, and sexual violence against LGBT people by armed groups in Iraq. Based on interviews with 54 people, the research found evidence of abductions, attempted murder, extrajudicial killing, instances of sexual violence, threats to rape and kill, and cases of online targeting by armed units within the Popular Mobilization Forces. The report documents abuses by armed groups and police against children as young as 15.


The US Department of State report found that, despite repeated threats and violence against LGBT people, the Iraqi Government failed to properly prosecute attackers and protect victims. Furthermore, LGBT people faced intimidation, threats, violence, and discrimination, and could not live openly. Those who faced violence and injury had no recourse in the courts.

In May, media reports suggested a young gay man was killed in Baghdad and another in Babil Province just days after the EU Mission in Iraq hoisted a rainbow flag in support of the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia, which sparked political backlash.


In April, a transgender woman was killed by her family in Basrah after they discovered her hormone medication.

In August, another transgender woman was found dead in Baghdad, having been shot twice and her clothes ripped off her body.


In June, posters and banners supporting LGBT rights were anonymously put up in the streets of Baghdad. The campaign was lead by two NGOs: an anonymous local NGO in Iraq, and Sweden-based IraQueer. Amir Ashour, the President of Iraqueer, said: “The media rarely report on violence committed against LGBT people, and certainly never come out and condemn it. We did an investigation where we counted 220 killings of LGBT people across the country – and that’s just in 2017.”

In October, Ahmad Majed Mutairi, a 14-year-old, was brutally killed on video because he had ‘feminine’ looks.


In January, the group Asa’eb Ahl Al-Haq, a Shiite Islamist military movement part of a coalition to fight against the Islamic State group, published a list of 100 people accused of homosexuality, who were threatened with death. Since then, some have been killed, others have fled the country, and a large number of them are now missing.

In March, a close family member killed a man purported to be one of two men shown in a gay-sex video circulated online.

In July, an actor and model, Karar Nushi, was stabbed to death due to his perceived sexuality.


joint report on Human Rights in Iraq by the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights found that LGBT individuals continue to be exposed to violence: “Lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender persons (LGBT) continue to be targeted for violence, harassment, threats and intimidation on account of their perceived sexual orientation. UNAMI received reports of at least six murders that were motived by perceptions of sexual orientation. Many people who are LGBT informed UNAMI that they fear violence from family members, militias, members of the public, and from the authorities should their sexual orientation be revealed. A number of cases confirmed that they had been sexually and physically assaulted by police after their sexual orientation was disclosed”.


report from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees includes statistics from a London based LGBT organisation that estimates there have been 750 killings of LGBT men and women since 2003. The report notes many accounts of persecution, including harassment, torture, ostracism by family members and society, and targeted violence. The LGBT section of the report concludes by suggesting LGBT individuals from Iraq may have a valid claim for asylum: “In light of widespread prejudice, traditional or tribal values of “honour”, potentially problematic legal provisions of the Iraqi Penal Code, and strong media bias against LGBTI individuals, UNHCR considers that LGBTI individuals are likely to be in need of international refugee protection on account of their membership of a particular social group, i.e., their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, since they do not, or are perceived not to conform to prevailing legal, religious and social norms.”


Related Countries


Iran criminalises same-sex sexual activity between men and between women. Sentences include a maximum penalty of death.


Syria criminalises same-sex sexual activity between men and between women. Sentences include a maximum penalty of three years’ imprisonment.

Saudi Arabia

Country profile of Saudi Arabia. LGBT people are Saudi Arabia criminalises same-sex sexual activity between men and between women. The gender expression of trans people is also criminalised. Sentences include a maximum penalty of death. under Sharia Law.

Local Organisations


a Sweden-based organisation advocating for the rights of LGBT Iraqis.

Rasan Organization

an organisation based in Iraqi Kurdistan which primarily advocates for gender equality, but also supports the LGBT community.

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