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Last update: June 2022

General information

Kirkuk is a governorate in northern Iraq. It comprises four districts, namely Kirkuk, where Kirkuk city is located, Dibis, Hawija and Daquq. The Iraqi CSO estimated the governorate’s population for 2021 at 1 726 409. 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 of a longstanding territorial dispute between the Iraqi central government and the KRG.

Background of the conflict

During its 2014 offensive, ISIL took control of Hawija district and controlled the countryside and rural areas of Kirkuk. Between 2015 and 2017 Peshmerga fighters and PMF joined forces and pushed ISIL out. Hawija and Daquq were liberated by ISF forces in October 2017.

In September 2017 an independence referendum was held by the KRG. This led to an offensive from the central Iraqi authorities against the Kurdish security forces. Peshmerga fighters got driven away and Kirkuk was placed back under central government control. An array of state and non state actors are present in the governorate leading to a sense of insecurity for the residents and to security gaps. The lack of coordination between these actors got exploited by ISIL. The Iraqi security forces conducted multiple operations against ISIL. In September 2021 the federal government and the KRG forces formed Joint Coordination Centres, of which one is set in Kirkuk to coordinate the operation against ISIL. US led coalition forces, supplied air support in the operations against ISIL.

During the Saddam Hussein era, Kurdish lands got confiscated by Arabs. Renewed land disputes between Arab and Kurdish communities occurred.

Actors: control and presence

ISIL has a presence in the Hamrin mountain range and in the Qarachogh mountain range bordering Makhmour district in the north. The triangle formed between the cities of Kirkuk, Baiji and Samara appears to be of specific importance.

The PMF arrived in Kirkuk in 2017. Pro-Iranian PMF pursued their own political and military goals, looking to establish themselves permanently in the governorate by recruiting fighters locally including local Shia Turkmens. Badr is the most powerful and works closely with ISF. Other PMF groups like AAH and KH are present next to some Tribal Mobilisation Forces. Recruitment into the different PMF follows ethno-sectarian lines and shifted the security balance to Turkmens and Arabs at the expense of Kurdish representation.

ISF’s presence was reported near Qarachogh mountains and at checkpoints in Hawija district. ISF’s activities were reported across the governorate, among which there were operations in Daquq district, Dibis district and south of Kirkuk city. The international coalition forces handed over the K1 airbase, west of Kirkuk, to the ISF.

Badr allows a presence of Asayish for intelligence gathering and security oversight in the Kurdish areas.

Nature of violence and examples of incidents

ISIL carried out asymmetrical attacks targeting civilians and security forces. ISIL’s activities range from targeted attacks on military and police checkpoints, on local leaders and on infrastructure such as the power grid and oil installations. Incidents against civilians included attacks on villages and groups of civilians, killings, abductions and kidnapping for ransom, the latter having increased since the beginning of 2021. ISIL continued to threaten road security. It manifests itself mostly during spring and summer campaigns. ISIL was involved in 123 incidents between August 2020 an October 2021 causing 133 fatalities.

The PMF develop illicit activities in the area like smuggling, blackmailing of residents and intervene in the land disputes supporting Arab farmers over Kurdish residents.

US led coalition and ISF repeatedly launched operations and conducted airstrikes against ISIL.

Incidents: data

In the reference period, ACLED reported a total of 279 security incidents (average of 4.3 security incidents per week) in Kirkuk of which 137 incidents were coded as battles, 107 as remote violence/explosions and 35 as violence against civilians. UNAMI[35] recorded 47 armed conflict-related incidents, 19 taking place from 1st August 2020 to December 2020 and 28 from 1st January until 31 October 2021 (average of 0.7 security incidents per week for the full reference period).

Geographical scope

The majority of the incidents took place in Daquq district.

Civilian casualties: data

In the reference period, UNAMI recorded a total of 76 civilian casualties (20 deaths and 56 injuries) in the aforementioned armed conflict-related incidents. More specifically, 40 casualties were reported from August to December 2020, and 36 casualties were reported from 1st January until 31 October 2021. Compared to the official figures for the population in the governorate, this represents 4 civilian casualties per 100 000 inhabitants for the full reference period.


As of September 2021, 90 582 IDPs were registered in Kirkuk. The majority of them, 58%, was displaced within the government followed by 22% from neighbouring governorate Salah al-Din. 23 134 IDPs originating from Kirkuk governorate are still displaced mostly in Erbil, Sulaymaniyah and Salah al-Din. As of September 2021, 350 886 returnees to Kirkuk governorate were reported.

Further impact on civilians

The governorate of Kirkuk is affected by mine contamination due to post-2003 internal conflict and ISIL occupation in 2014-2017, with the southern part labelled as highly contaminated. In terms of the explosive risk level, stretches of roads in Kirkuk were assessed by iMMAP to be at ‘primary risk’.

Looking at the indicators, it can be concluded that indiscriminate violence is taking place in the governorate of Kirkuk, 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, 2.5



[35] 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’.