RELIGIOUS militias in Iraq have singled out a new target, killing scores of young men dressed in "emo" fashions, according to human rights groups.
The groups say militant Shia have been encouraged in the wave of attacks by the interior ministry, following a long-standing campaign of gay-bashing. A statement on its website claimed emos were "devil-worshippers".
Gangs of youths have devised a particularly brutal method of killing those they regard as "emos", in the West a term for youths who wear black and adopt a moody appearance but used in Iraq to describe anyone with "floppy hair" and dressed fashionably.
The method, known popularly as the "double block", involves abducting the youths and smashing their heads between two lumps of concrete. Activists say up to 90 people, all but two of them men, have been killed in this method or by shooting or beating this year accused of being either homosexual or "emo".
Shia militias like the "Mahdi Army" loyal to a radical Shia cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr, fought the Americans until being defeated in 2008. They have now joined the political process, but still enforce a rigid view of society in poor Shia areas where they are dominant, like the giant Sadr City neighbourhood in Baghdad.
Their attacks on homosexuals began in 2009. The fact that the Mahdi Army's political wing, the Sadrists, is now part of a coalition government has served to encourage them "It is a great shame that this attack on personal freedoms is taking place," said Saad al-Mutallibi, a politician close to the prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, who estimated the number of deaths on "moral" grounds as in the 50s.
A statement on the interior ministry website read: "The 'Emo phenomenon' or devil worshipping is being followed by the Moral Police who have the approval to eliminate it as soon as possible since it's detrimentally affecting the society and becoming a danger.
"They wear strange, tight clothes that have pictures on them such as skulls and use stationary that are shaped as skulls. They also wear rings on their noses and tongues, and do other strange activities."
One man who was attacked but managed to escape told an Arabic-language newspaper: "First they throw concrete blocks at the boy's arms, then at his legs, then the final blow is to his head, and if he is not dead then, they start all over again."
Another man, defending his right to wear long hair, said: "My hair is long but it doesn't mean that I'm emo. My clothes are my personal style – this is my freedom, this is me."
Gruesome pictures have appeared on Facebook and other social networking sites, apparently as a warning. One group, calling itself the "Brigade of Anger" last week issued a hit list of 33 young people it said would be next.
Mr al-Sadr issued a statement calling emos a "lesion" on society but called for them to be dealt with "within the law".