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Last update: June 2022

General information

Erbil is part of the KRI. It is located in the north-eastern part of Iraq and has internal borders with Dohuk, Ninewa, Salah al-Din, Kirkuk and Sulaymaniyah governorates, and international borders with Turkey and the Islamic Republic of Iran. For UNOCHA, Erbil governorate is divided into the following districts: Erbil, Al-Zibar, Rawanduz, Shaqlawa, Koisinjaq (Koysinjaq), and Makhmur (Makhmour). However, some maps show a different district order: instead of districts Al-Zibar and Rawanduz, they show three districts called Mergasur (Mergasor, Mergesor), Soran and Choman, with Mergasur taking up the area of Al-Zibar and parts of Rawanduz, and the remaining part of Rawanduz being split into the districts of Soran and Choman. Makhmour’s administrative status remains officially undetermined, however the district has been administered by the Ninewa governorate since 1991. The Iraqi CSO estimated the governorate’s population for 2021 at 2 003 963 with the majority being Kurds.

Background of the conflict

The overall stability in the KRI depends on the nature of the relationship between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which controls Erbil and Dohuk and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which controls Sulaymaniyah. The cooperation between both parties appears to be difficult.

The KRG is closely linked to Turkey concerning various economic matters and accepted Turkish operations against the PKK taking place in the KRI. Clashes between PKK and Turkey intensified since 2020. Turkey expanded its bases deeper in the KRI and the fighting between both parties intensified. Civilians evacuated their villages, suffered injuries and death. Farms, livestock and agricultural land got damages or were burned down. Especially the Rawanduz and Makhmur districts suffered from security related incidents.

The Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (KDPI) declared war to Iran and has attacked Iranian and Turkish forces since 1979. The Party for Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK) is PKK’s Iranian wing and has its military wing in the Qandil mountain range. PJAK wages a low level insurgency against Iran, that retaliates. Clashes intensified during the recent years. KDPI bases were attacked by Iranian drones and artillery in 2021.

After the Kurdish independent referendum of 2017, the central government took control over the disputed territories, like the district of Makhmour. As a result of the withdrawal of Peshmerga forces, security gaps appeared that got exploited by ISIL. Coalition forces conducted in 2020 and in 2021 several operations against ISIL in the Qarachogh mountain, close to Makhmur.

Actors: control and presence

Peshmerga units (KDP or PUK affiliated) and Peshmerga brigades of the Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs (MoPA) are present. Asayish internal security services (KDP or PUK affiliated) and separate intelligence services (Zanyari (PUK) and Parastin (KDP)) can be found as well. They are loyal to their affiliated parties and involved in the day to day security and administrative affairs.

Turkish military forces are stationed in bases and military points across the KRI including in Erbil.

PKK is present in the areas bordering Sulaymaniyah and Iran. It has been reported that around 650 communities might live under PKK control throughout the KRI. PKK has approximately 5000 fighters stationed in the KRI and has its headquarters in Qandil mountains.

Iranian state forces undertook artillery and drone operations in the border area between Iran and Erbil.

Kurdish Iranian opposition groups, like PJAK and KDPI have bases in KRI that get from time to time shelled by Iranian forces.

ISIL considers the Qarachogh mountains, near Makhmour as a safe haven due to the security gaps in the region.

U.S. forces are stationed in Erbil, close to Erbil International Airport, where during the reference period they were repeatedly attacked by rockets and drone strikes purportedly carried out by Pro-Iranian PMF. Erbil airport got attacked several times, presumably by Iranian backed PMF, targeting the US coalition forces based there.

Nature of violence and examples of incidents

Asayish internal security services act with impunity regarding human right violations. Peshmerga and Asayish forces acted against the law and conducted arbitrary arrests. They are responsible for the fight against ISIL and are involved in maintaining the day-to-day security, such as the protests.

During the reference period clashes between PKK and Turkey were reported in border regions between KRI and Turkey.

ISIL is reported to conduct kidnappings in Makhmur, threaten local villagers and target essential infrastructure albeit on a low scale. One incident of ISIL setting up a fake checkpoint in order to kidnap civilians and seize vehicles was reported.

Civilians were killed and wounded by different types of violence including an IED explosion, missiles targeting Erbil International airport, explosion of a roadside IED, and drone attacks. A fight over a plot in the context of a feud killed and injured 6 civilians in total.

Incidents: date

According to ACLED, Erbil governorate recorded the second highest number of security incidents in Iraq after Dohuk governorate during the reference period. ACLED reported a total of 664 security incidents (average of 10.2 security incidents per week) in the period from August 2020 and October 2021, of which 457 were coded as remote violence/explosions, 188 as battles and 19 as violence against civilians. UNAMI[33] recorded 11 armed conflict-related incidents, 5 taking place between 1st August to December 2020 and 6 from 1st January until 31 October 2021 (average of 0.2 security incidents per week for the full reference period).

Geographical scope

The majority of the security incidents occurred in the district Rawanduz.

Civilian casualties

In the reference period, UNAMI recorded a total of 13 civilian casualties (1 deaths and 12 injuries) in the aforementioned armed conflict-related incidents. More specifically, 1 casualty was reported in 2020 and 12 casualties from 1st January until 31 October 2021. Compared to the official figures for the population in the governorate, this represents 1 civilian casualty per 100 000 inhabitants for the reference period.


As of 30 September 2021, 231 638 IDPs are registered in Erbil. 1 749 IDPs from Erbil were registered in Kirkuk and Ninewa in August and September 2021. During the same period 60 432 IDPs returned to Erbil governorate.

Further impact on civilians

Turkish military operations against the PKK caused infrastructural damage and lead to the burning down of agricultural land. According to UNOCHA, humanitarian actors experienced low access constraints in most districts in Erbil, except for Makhmur where access constraints were reportedly high because of the presence of armed actors, checkpoints, high level of insecurity as well as other impediments. Incidents of road security occurred. For example, in August 2021, it was said that ISIL members set up a fake checkpoint on the Erbil-Makhmur road near the village of Kendal and used it to seize vehicles and kidnap civilians.

The KRI including Erbil is an area with high numbers of mines. As of the end of 2020 there were 335 confirmed hazardous areas (CHAs) in Erbil governorate, covering an area of approximately 48 million square metres.

Looking at the indicators, it can be concluded that indiscriminate violence is taking place in the governorate of Erbil, however not at a high level. Accordingly, a higher level of individual elements is required in order 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, 2.9, 2.9.2


[33] 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’.