At least 14 such victims were killed in Baghdad in the past three weeks, according to a senior Interior Ministry official, who was not authorized to talk to the media.
Rights activists claim the number is actually much higher, with some suggesting dozens or more than 100 have been killed since February.
The killings appear to target people perceived to be gay, or emo — shorthand in Iraq for an in-your-face style of Western dress that favors tight clothes, long hair and the color black.
Most of the killings have taken place in Shiite neighborhoods like Sadr City, Shulaa, Ameen and Tariq, activists said.
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“Ten days ago, I received a letter from militiamen threatening me that if they found me then they will not kill me like other ‘perverts,’ but they will cut my body into pieces,” a gay activist told CNN on Sunday.
The activist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of safety concerns, showed CNN a copy of a letter he said was distributed in Sadr City, identifying 33 potential “gay and emo” targets.
“We strongly warn every male and female debauchee, if you do not stop this dirty act within four days, then the punishment of God will fall on you at the hands of Mujahideen,” it read.
The anonymous threats and murders come less than a month after the Interior Ministry released a statement on the so-called emo phenomenon, blasting it as Satanic.
It said the movement, which it described as young people wearing “strange and tight clothes with graphics such as skulls,” is being monitored by authorities with the goal of eliminating it.
To that end, community or “moral police” will be allowed to enter schools in the capital, the statement read.
The campaign and violence have had an immediate chilling effect among youth communities in Baghdad.
Teenager Kamel Saad told CNN he cut his hair so as not to become a potential target.
“I’m not the only one. All my friends in the school decided to change their hair style and change their clothes, too, even though we’re not emo or gay,” he said.
Saad said a group of men, who identified themselves as community police, entered his classroom two weeks ago and asked students to tell them about other students’ suspicious behavior.
“I thought it was about terrorism, but later, when the police explained more, we realized that they were talking about emo,” he said.