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Last updated: January 2021

Kirkuk is a governorate in northern Iraq. It comprises four districts, namely Kirkuk, where Kirkuk city is located, Dibis, Hawija and Daquq. For 2019, the governorate’s estimated population was at 1 639 953. Kirkuk has a diverse and mixed population with a variety of ethnic and religious groups. The predominant religious group in the governorate are Sunni Muslims. Abundant oil reserves make Kirkuk a governorate of strategic importance, but also a source of tensions and a longstanding territorial dispute between the Iraqi central government and the KRG.

During 2014-2017, different parts of the governorate were controlled by ISIL and Kurdish Pershmerga forces. ISF regained most of the governorate in October 2017, following KRG’s decision to hold an independence referendum. ISIL no longer holds territory. However, the group is active in the governorate, especially in Hawija and Daquq districts. As of June 2020, a wide range of security actors are reported to operate in Kirkuk governorate, including the Iraqi army, the Counter-Terrorism Service, an array of PMU, federal and local police, and various intelligence services. Security actors are competing with each other and have also been involved in profitable criminal activities. Additionally, Kurdish Peshmerga forces have participated in some actions against ISIL in Kirkuk.

Frequent attacks have been reported by ISIL against security forces and civilians in several governorates, including Kirkuk, during 2019 and 2020. The number of attacks carried out by ISIL, such as roadside bombings, attempts to overrun ISF’s checkpoints or outposts, person-specific targeted attacks and attempted mass-casualty attacks, declined in the governorate between 2018 and the first quarter of 2020, however, the group remained active. For the period between 1 April and 30 June 2020, Kirkuk governorate witnessed the second highest number of ISIL-claimed or suspected attacks out of all governorates. ISIL attacks have taken the form of IED bombings against civilians in Kirkuk city, mortars at villages and towns, bombs and explosive booby-trapping of bodies, harassment campaigns against the Kaka’i minority, assassinations of community leaders, kidnappings of farmers for ransom, and extortion of civilians. In 2019, ISIL was also reported to carry out sniper attacks, ambushes, burning of crops, kidnappings, and assassinations against security forces and community leaders. ISIL also targeted civilian infrastructure, such as water and electricity installations in Kirkuk. In March 2020, it was reported that ISIL-claimed attacks in Kirkuk mainly targeted ISF and community leaders. Military operations and one major clearance operation against ISIL were conducted in Kirkuk governorate by ISF with international coalition intelligence and fire support. In December 2019, a rocket attack attributed to Kataib Hezbollah on a military base resulted in casualties.

ACLED reported a total of 324 security incidents (average of 3.9 security incidents per week) in Kirkuk governorate in the reference period, the majority of which coded as incidents of remote violence/explosions and battles. Security incidents occurred in all districts of the governorate, with the largest overall number being recorded in Kirkuk. UNAMI recorded 90 armed conflict related incidents, 73 taking place in 2019, and 17 from 1st January until 31st July 2020 (average of 1.1 security incidents per week for the full reference period).

In the reference period, UNAMI recorded a total of 258 civilian casualties (81 deaths and 177 injuries) in the aforementioned armed conflict related incidents. More specifically, 224 casualties were reported in 2019 and 34 casualties were reported from 1st January until 31st July 2020. Compared to the official figures for the population in the governorate, this represents 16 civilian casualties per 100 000 inhabitants for the full reference period.

As of 30 June 2020, IOM recorded 100 026 IDPs and 341 106 returnees in Kirkuk governorate. As of April 2020, IOM identified 13 locations recording no returns in Kirkuk, all situated in the districts of Hawija (Al-Riyad sub-district) and Kirkuk (Al-Multaqa sub-district). The main reasons for the lack of returns were linked to destroyed buildings, lack of services, presence of mines and IEDs, security problems, and the presence of ISIL. According to reports, forced and coerced movements from camps and informal settlements in Kirkuk governorate made some populations vulnerable to secondary displacement.

House damage as well as damages in water resources and WASH infrastructure have been recorded. Unexploded mines and bombs, as well as ‘huge volumes of debris’ were also 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 Kirkuk, 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, 2.5