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Last updated: January 2021

According to the UN, the population of Iraq, including the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), was estimated to be 40 150 200 people in 2020 [Key socio-economic indicators 2020,1.1]

Iraq is a federal republic and is administratively divided into 18 governorates, with the KRI governed as an autonomous region by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) [Actors of protection, 1].

The three largest demographic groups in Iraq are Shia Arabs, Sunni Arabs, and Kurds. Numerous religious, ethnic, cultural and linguistic minorities live in Iraq, in particular in the North of the country. It is estimated that 75 - 80 % of the inhabitants are Arab and 15 - 20 % are Kurdish. Ethnic minorities make up to 5 % of the population. Islam is the country’s official religion. According to official statistics from 2020, 95-98 % of the population is Muslim (approximately 64-69 % Shia and 29-34 % Sunni) [Key socio-economic indicators 2020, 1.1]. Shia communities are mainly concentrated in the south and east of Iraq. Shia are also the majority in Baghdad and have communities in most parts of the country. Sunnis are mostly located in the west, north, and central parts of the country. The majority of the population of the KRI identifies ethnically as Kurdish and is of Sunni Muslim religion [Targeting, 3.4].

Kurdish is the most widely spoken language in the KRI, while the most widely spoken language in the rest of the country is Arabic [Key socio-economic indicators 2019, 1.1; Actors of protection, 1].

Iraq’s recent history has been characterised by a series of conflicts with political, ethnic and sectarian dimensions. In 2013, Sunni insurgent groups, together with al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQ-I) and affiliates, formed together under the Islamic State in Iraq (ISI), the precursor group to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the Islamic State, or Daesh. This conflict culminated in 2014, when the Salafi jihadist group ISIL transformed from its predecessor groups, and conquered one third of Iraq’s territory, forcing the sudden collapse of Iraq’s state security forces. According to the UN Human Rights Council, between June 2014 and December 2017, in the territories it attacked and controlled, ISIL applied a ‘sustained and deliberate policy of executing civilians’ as a means of exerting control and instilling fear. The group committed mass killings, targeted civilians, imposed strict codes of social behaviour, killing those not in conformity with their Islamic Takfiri doctrines. ISIL’s control in conquered territories was particularly harsh towards the Shia, and towards religious and ethnic minorities [Security situation 2019, 1.1.1, 1.1.2].

In the end of 2017, the Iraqi security forces succeeded in taking back control of the territories which had been seized by ISIL in 2014. After three years of military campaigns against ISIL in different areas of Iraq, in December 2017, the Prime Minister al-Abadi declared that ISIL was militarily defeated. The level of violence in Iraq has decreased significantly since, and the country is rebuilding its institutions and all forms of civil life. However, ISIL remains active in parts of the country [Security situation 2019, 1.1.2].

The individual assessment of international protection needs should take into account the presence and activity of different actors in the applicant’s home area and the situation in the areas the applicant would need to travel through in order to reach their home area. This country guidance is based on an assessment of the general situation in the country of origin. Where not specified otherwise, the analysis and guidance refer to Iraq in general, including the Kurdish Region in Iraq (KRI). In some sections, the analysis specifies that it refers to:

- Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI): An autonomous region of Iraq, including the governorates of Dohuk, Erbil, and Sulaymaniyah

- Disputed territories: Areas disputed between the Iraq central government and the KRG under Article 140 of the Constitution. These areas include Kirkuk, parts of northern Diyala, parts of Erbil (Makhmour district), Salah al-Din, and Ninewa.

Figure 7. UN Iraq- District Map, January 2014.[16]