Sistani renounces fatwa on gays

Rights campaigners were claiming a moral victory after Iraq's Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani appeared to renounce a fatwa calling for the killing of homosexuals "in the most severe way".

The decision by Iraq's most prominent Shia leader to remove the call for the killing of gays from his website came after a spate of attacks against homosexuals, including the murder of a 14-year-old boy revealed last week in The Independent. Ahmed Khalil was shot at point-blank range after being accosted by men in police uniforms, according to his neighbours in the al-Dura area of Baghdad.

Campaign groups had warned of a surge in homophobic killings by state security services and religious militias following the anti-gay and anti-lesbian fatwa issued by Ayatollah Sistani.

The killing of Ahmed is one of a series of alleged homophobic murders. There is mounting evidence that fundamentalists have infiltrated government security forces to commit homophobic murders while wearing police uniforms.

Rights groups are concerned that the Sadr and Badr militias, both Shia, have stepped up attacks on gays after a string of religious rulings, since the US-led invasion, calling for their eradication.

The apparent about-turn from thereligious leader came after two weeks of talks with the London office of the Iraqi gay and lesbian organisation LGBT, a clandestine network with members in many Iraqi towns.

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