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Last update: June 2022

General information

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. The districts in Diyala which are disputed bij the KRG and the central government are Khanqin, Kifri and the subdistrict Mandali, situated in Baladrooz district. The Iraqi CSO estimated the governorate’s population for 2021 at 1 768 920 inhabitants. Arabs, Kurds, and Turkmens make up the majority of the population although other etnic religious group are present as well.

Background of the conflict

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 PMF to control the region.

Diyala is one of Iraq’s governorates worst 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. During the counter-ISIL offensive Iranian backed PMF forcibly displaced thousands of Sunni Iraqi civilians from the province, killing hundreds. After ISIL’s territorial defeat in 2017, many ISIL fighters rejoined forces with former allies in the directorate. ISIL retreated to rural areas. Although a large number of PMF are present in the governorate, Diyala has seen the highest concentration of ISIL attacks due to a lack of coordination between the different security actors present. Besides targeting the security forces, civilians were also killed or abducted by ISIL.

Actors: control and presence

Diyala remained the main focus of ISIL attacks. ISIL focusses its activity in rural and ungoverned areas. In December 2020, the PMF built a series of barriers and fortifications around rural towns in Khanaqin and Muqdadiya to counter ISIL’s hit and run attacks.

ISIL fighters are most active in the northern area of Diyala because of security gaps and in the Makhmour, Makhul, Palkhana and Hamrin mountains due to the rough terrain. In the Hamrin mountains ISIL has built a permanent infrastructure consisting of hideouts, training camps, courts and a tunnel network as well as weapons stocks. ISIL is organized in small, mobile cells and wage a low – level insurgency. 31% of the 309 ISIL attacks reported during the last quarter of 2020 took place in Diyala.

The governorate falls under control of the Dijla Operations Command of the ISF but is outsized by different PMF that gained power in the governorate and is the dominant authority. PMF control border with Iran while it is generally the responsibility of border guards.

The TMF (Tribal Mobilisation Forces, Hashd al asha’iri) are intentionally organised as the smallest and weakest entities in the governorate in order to prevent them from posing a threat to Shia militias.

KRG security forces retreated from the district of Khanaqin and the subdistrict of Jalawla in October 2017. The KRG and the ISF conduct again joint operations in the area after the set-up of the Joint Coordination Centres in May 2021.

Nature of violence and examples of incidents

ISIL operates primarily in rural areas and relies mainly on IED’s, setting up ambushes, sniping operations, assassinations, and small-arms fire targeting security forces, tribal and civic leaders and other symbols of governance and infrastructure like the power grid. ISIL’s operations are financed through kidnappings, extortion, car-jackings and robberies. Kidnapping of truck drivers and mortar attacks on villages as well as burning homes and farms were reported. Civilians have been forced out and dozens of towns were emptied. Depopulating these areas further and ‘essentially daring Iraqi and coalition forces to move in’, ISIL awaited better conditions to emerge before attempting a full resurgence. The number of attacks decreased in the first months of 2021 and increased again, linked to the annual Ramadan offensive (spring of 2021) and the summer campaign on the power grid.

PMF regularly conduct counter-ISIL operations, drone surveillance, raids, clearing operations and man checkpoints, but also engage in extortion, detaining Sunnis on false charges and weapon smuggling from Iran. Furthermore, the PMF are accused of repeated forced displacements of Sunnis resulting in demographic change along the border with Iran. These evolutions steered up the sectarian tension and pushed Sunni Arabs to join or support ISIL. The presence of the PMF in the disputed territories lead to security gaps.

Incidents: data

Diyala is the Central Iraqi governorate with the highest number of security incidents. In the reference period ACLED reported a total of 497 security incidents (average of 7.6 security incidents per week) in Diyala of which 219 incidents ware coded as battles, 185 as remote violence/explosions and 93 as violence against civilians. UNAMI[32] recorded 66 armed conflict-related incidents, 23 taking place from 1st August to 31 December 2020 and 43 from 1st January until 31 October 2021 (average of 1 security incident per week for the full reference period).

Geographical scope

The majority of the security incidents took place in Khanaqin district and Muqdadiya district.

Civilian casualties: data

In the reference period, UNAMI recorded a total of 173 civilian casualties (82 deaths and 91 injuries) in the aforementioned armed conflict-related incidents. More specifically, 61 casualties were reported in 2020 and 112 casualties from 1st January until 31 October 2021. Compared to the official figures for the population in the governorate, this represents 10 civilian casualties per 100 000 inhabitants for the full reference period.


As of September 2021, 43 963 IDPs were registered in Diyala, the majority of them were displaced within the governorate.

Diyala governorate registered 239 310 returnees, of which almost half returned to Khanqin district. In April 2021 IOM recorded a number of locations with no return in the same districts.

Further impact on civilians

Diyala suffered extensive infrastructural damage affecting the agricultural sector, schools, power sector, water resources assets, hygiene and health sector and housing damage due to the fight against ISIL. Muqtadiya, Khanqin and Khalis were most affected. In June 2021 reconstruction and rehabilitation of damaged houses in Khalis had been completed, while work is in progress in the districts of Muqdadiya and Khanaqin. Even though the governorate is still highly contaminated with explosive devices and remnants of war, only limited action is undertaken to tackle the issue. In terms of the explosive risk level, stretches of roads in Diyala were assessed by iMMAP to be at ‘primary risk’.

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 references: Security 2022, 2.4



[32] UNAMI data focuses on armed conflict-related incidents, which have directly impacted civilians (causing civilian casualties) and the civilian nature of property and protected areas (such as civilian houses, cropland, schools, health facilities and mosque), see ‘Indicators of indiscriminate violence, number of incidents’.