updated 4/4/2009 4:30:17 PM ET 2009-04-04T20:30:17

The bodies of two gay men have been found in Baghdad's Shiite slum of Sadr City after a leading cleric repeatedly condemned homosexuality, an Iraqi police official said Saturday.

The killings come after Shiite cleric Sattar al-Battat repeatedly condemned homosexuality during recent Friday prayers, saying Islam prohibits homosexuality. Homosexual acts are punishable by up to seven years in prison in Iraq.

The two men were believed killed Thursday by relatives who were shamed by their behavior, said the official. Police said they suspected the killings were at the hands of family members because no one has claimed the bodies or called for an investigation.

The killings come weeks after Iraqi police found four bodies in late March buried near Sadr City with the words "pervert" and "puppies" written on their chests, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.

Puppy is a derogatory word used by residents in Sadr City to refer to homosexuals, the official said.

Sadr City, a slum of about two million people, is home to a large majority of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia. Al-Sadr's forces launched several uprisings against American forces since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, but fighting ended in Sadr City in May 2008.

"When the Mahdi army was in control, such practices were banned, and homosexuals were afraid of declaring their tendencies," the official said. But that's changed since the Mahdi Army militia cease fire took hold, the official said. The official said some people claim a coffee shop in Sadr City has become a hangout for gay men.

'Shame'
Sheik Ammar al-Saadi, a cleric at al-Sadr's office, denied any involvement by the Mahdi army in the killings. He said the Mahdi Army was only urging people to stop practicing homosexuality.

"Such people have brought shame on Sadr city people," he told The Associated Press. "The blame falls on the security forces who do little to combat this phenomenon or to stop the flow of pornography materials into Iraq."

Also Saturday, a tourism and antiquities ministry official said Iraq plans to open a museum filled with belongings of ousted Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Abdul-Zahra al-Talqani, the media director of Iraq's office of tourism and archaeology affairs, told The AP that the items, which include art, furniture and weapons, were being handed back to the Iraqi government by the American military.

The U.S. military had been storing weapons belonging to the late Iraqi dictator in Taji, north of Baghdad.

Al-Talqani said no site for the museum has been selected, though it could be housed in one of Saddam's palaces.

Some of the former dictator's belonging are currently stored — but not on display — in Baghdad's National Museum, which reopened in February after having been closed following looting in the aftermath of the 2003 invasion.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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