Diyala province is located in the central-eastern part of Iraq and has borders with Sulaymaniyah, Salah al-Din, Baghdad and Wassit provinces and an international border with Iran. The governorate is divided into six districts: Baquba, Baladrooz, Khalis, Khanaqin, Kifri and Muqdadiya. Baqubah city is the capital of the governorate. Diyala governorate has an estimated population of 1 680 328 inhabitants as of 2019. Arabs, Kurds, and Turkmens make up the majority of the population. Other ethnic and religious groups also reside in the governorate. The governorate’s proximity to Baghdad as well as to the Iranian border has made it a priority for the Iraqi government and the Iranian-backed PMU to control the region.
Diyala is one of Iraq’s governorates most affected by the 2013-2014 ISIL invasion. Diyala was declared entirely freed of ISIL control in January 2015, after an occupation of approximately six months that led to thousands of its inhabitants being displaced. The governorate falls under the Dijla Operations Command of the ISF control. However, the ISF struggle to maintain territorial control in regions where ISIL continues to be supported by or controls the local population. PMU, mainly the Badr Organisation, are reportedly particularly strong in Diyala. Northern Diyala has increasingly become an area of operations for Asa’ib Ahl alHaq (AAH). Also, Tribal Mobilization Forces and Peshmerga Forces are involved in confrontations with ISIL. Lack of coordination between PMU, tribal forces, the Peshmerga, and Coalition forces was reported. In 2019 and early 2020, Diyala became the governorate where ISIL was most active in Iraq, especially in the northern areas of the governorate. In the Hamrin mountains, ISIL has built a permanent infrastructure, consisting of hideouts, training camps and its own courts.
ISIL waged its insurgency through bombardments, mortar cells, roadside bombings, attacks on security forces’ checkpoints, sniping attacks, assassinations, abductions, kidnappings, and crop fires, resulting also in evacuation of villages. Targeting Kurds, Shia, and ‘uncooperative’ Sunni tribes, ISIL uses ‘ethnic or sectarian cleansing activities’ on a scale not seen in other provinces. As of March 2020, ISIL daily claimed attacks in Diyala, mainly targeting the ISF and community leaders. Airstrikes on suspected ISIL hideouts in and around the Hamrin mountains by international coalition forces and/or Iraqi warplanes were reported throughout 2019 and the first half of 2020. IED explosions were also recorded in the governorate. In the autumn of 2019, protest demonstrations also took place in Diyala, albeit on a smaller scale than in Baghdad and in the south of Iraq. In January 2020, confrontation between demonstrators and local police was reported. Between January and December 2019, several explosive hazard incidents were reported in Diyala, especially on the road from Baquba to Khanaqin. Between January and June 2020, the explosive hazards risk level on roads in Diyala governorate was elevated most frequently in and around Khanaqin district.
ACLED reported a total of 630 security incidents (average of 7.6 security incidents per week) in Diyala governorate in the reference period, the majority of which coded as battles and incidents of remote violence/explosions. Security incidents occurred in all districts of the governorate, majority of them taking place in the Muqdadiya district. UNAMI recorded 103 armed conflict related incidents, 55 taking place in 2019 and 48 from 1st January until 31st July 2020 (average of 1.3 security incidents per week for the full reference period).
In the reference period, UNAMI recorded a total of 224 civilian casualties (93 deaths and 131 injuries) in the aforementioned armed conflict related incidents. More specifically, 111 casualties were reported in 2019 and 113 casualties were reported from 1st January until 31st July 2020. Compared to the official figures for the population in the governorate, this represents 13 civilian casualties per 100 000 inhabitants for the full reference period.
As of June 2020, 53 688 IDPs were registered in Diyala, the majority of whom were displaced within the governorate. By the same date, 230 244 returnees have been registered in Diyala, of whom almost half returned to Khanaqin district. The majority of the returnees (79 %) were formerly displaced within the governorate. In December 2019, UNOCHA noted ‘forced and premature returns and forced or coerced departures from camps and informal settlements’ took place in Ninewa, Salah al-Din, Anbar, Kirkuk and Diyala governorates, causing secondary displacement. IDPs were also prevented from returning to their area of origin. In addition to movement restrictions and denial of security clearance, destruction and seizure of property were used as a means to prevent return.
The governorate suffers from significant infrastructure and housing damage. Diyala has been one of the governorates with particularly high scores of infrastructure damage, also affecting the agricultural sector, schools, power sector, water resources assets, hygiene and health sector. Reconstruction and rehabilitation of damaged houses has been reported.
Looking at the indicators, it can be concluded that ‘mere presence’ in the area would not be sufficient to establish a real risk of serious harm under Article 15(c) QD in the governorate of Diyala, however, indiscriminate violence reaches a high level, and, accordingly, a lower level of individual elements is required to show substantial grounds for believing that a civilian, returned to the territory, would face a real risk of serious harm within the meaning of Article 15(c) QD.
Main COI reference: Security situation 2020, 2.4