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Last update: November 2021

[Main COI reference: Security 2021, 2.9]

General information

Deir ez-Zor governorate is located in eastern Syria. The governorate has an international border with Iraq to the east, and internal borders with Homs to the south, with Raqqa to the west and with Hasaka to the north. The Euphrates River passes through the governorate, dividing it into two parts. Deir ez-Zor is administratively divided into three districts: Deir ez-Zor, Al-Mayadin, and Al-Bukamal (alternatively Albu Kamal, Abu Kamal). In a March 2021 report, UNOCHA estimated the population of Deir ez-Zor governorate to be of 765 352 inhabitants.

Deir ez-Zor is predominantly inhabited by a Sunni Arab population, with the population of Shia being marginal at estimated 2 %. The Syrian-Iraqi border crossing in Al-Bukamal has been described as ‘a major strategic thoroughfare between Damascus and Baghdad’ and as ‘the focal point of a regional geopolitical rivalry’ between Iran and the US/Israel.

Background of the conflict

Since the beginning of the conflict in Syria, Deir ez-Zor witnessed anti-government protests. The Arab tribes in Deir ez-Zor showed a division of affiliation, as some factions joined the SDF, others were aligned with GoS forces, and the rest pledged allegiance to ISIL. By summer 2012, the FSA controlled more than three-quarters of Deir ez-Zor city. In 2014, ISIL captured the FSA-held neighbourhoods and succeeded in capturing the province almost entirely [see also Security 2020, 2.9].

The GoS and its allies had captured most of the areas west of the Euphrates River from ISIL by the end of 2017. The SDF and the US-led coalition captured the last ISIL-held territorial enclave on the eastern side of the river in March 2019.

In addition, Syria’s major oil fields are located in the SDF-controlled eastern Deir ez-Zor governorate, which has been a significant source of tensions between armed actors in the governorate.

Actors: control and presence

Deir ez-Zor governorate is roughly divided into two areas of control. The western part of the governorate –mainly the areas west of the Euphrates River – is controlled by the GoS and its Iranian and Russian allies. This area covers the major cities (Deir ez-Zor city, Mayadin and Al-Bukamal) and the logistical route connecting GoS-controlled areas to the Syrian-Iraqi border. Lebanese Hezbollah also has military presence and a pocket of influence south of Deir ez-Zor city. The eastern part of the governorate – most of the areas east of the Euphrates River – is controlled by the SDF and their allies in the US-led coalition.

ISIL has more permanent presence and activity in the western parts of Deir ez-Zor, the governorate in which the group concentrated its insurgent activities in the first half of 2020, alongside with Homs governorate. Between 1 000 and 1 800 ISIL fighters use the areas of the Badia desert region as a safe haven and base for launching attacks against GoS and SDF forces [see also Security 2021, 1.4.6 ] and to avoid security operations and to transfer arms, equipment and personnel across the Syrian-Iraqi border. In March 2021, ISIL was reportedly present in Jabal Bishri, in the area between Resafa, Shoula and Sukhna; and in the area between Shoula and Faydat.

In GoS-held areas in Deir ez-Zor governorate which have been recaptured from ISIL, militias were reported to be in control and engaging in criminality and extortion of civilians [see also Security 2021, 1.4.3].

Nature of violence and examples of incidents

During the reference period, the security situation in Deir ez-Zor governorate has been affected by ISIL’s expanding and intensifying insurgency, the tribal protests affecting the SDF controlled parts of Deir ez-Zor governorate, and the Iran-related security incidents (mainly US and Israeli airstrikes) reported in GoS-controlled parts of the governorate.

The majority of the attacks carried out by ISIL in Syria between October and December 2020 occurred in the Middle Euphrates River valley, with almost 50 % of the attacks reported in Deir ez-Zor governorate. All ISIL attacks were ‘small-scale attacks and assassinations’ and targeted civilians and members of both the SDF and GoS forces. The number of assassinations and attacks with explosives (162), reported between July 2019 and June 2020 and attributed to ISIL, indicated the existence of ‘a connected network for assassinations and explosions with the capacity to act’.

In early 2021, ISIL continued to target the GoS forces and the SDF with ‘ambush attacks and assassination attempts’. In the SDF controlled areas, ISIL maintained a ‘significant presence in rural farming communities’ and continued assassinations targeting ‘tribal and civic leaders and other influential figures’, with civilians also targeted by these attacks. In addition, the retreating ISIL fighters had left massive contamination of mines of an improvised nature and other improvised devices causing heavy damage to the returning civilians in areas under ISIL’s former influence, including Deir ez-Zor governorate.

In March 2020, it was reported that security conditions in the SDF-controlled eastern parts of Deir ez-Zor governorate were deteriorating as a result of the SDF security operations targeting civilians and ongoing demonstrations against the SDF, possibly provoked by locals associated with the GoS. The SDF announced the beginning of a new wide-ranging anti-ISIL campaign on 4 June 2020 that covered SDF-controlled areas from southern rural Hasaka governorate to Baghouz in eastern Deir ez-Zor.

Escalating protests against the corruption of the SDF controlled governance institutions in the rural parts of SDF-controlled Deir ez-Zor have been observed. Demonstrations have been organised in early January 2021 against the 2014 ‘self-defence law’ that enables the forced conscription to the SDF. There were reports that the SDF responded violently to such protests, opening fire at protestors.

It is also reported that potentially violent clashes between the GoS forces and the Iranian-backed armed groups for the control of checkpoints and the right to exact fees from passers-by are a ‘daily’ phenomenon in the area, sometimes claiming the life of civilians and injuring others.

US and Israeli airstrikes targeting the Iranian-backed armed groups in GoS-controlled areas of Deir ez-Zor governorate (mainly areas in and around Al-Bukamal) were also reported, leading to casualties among the fighters.

Incidents: data

ACLED recorded 1 322 security incidents (average of 20 security incidents per week) in Deir ez-Zor governorate in the period from 1 January 2020 to 31 March 2021. Out of the total number of incidents, 422 were coded as ‘battles’, 466 as ‘explosive/remote violence’ and 434 as incidents of ‘violence against civilians’.

Geographical scope

Security incidents were recorded in all Deir ez-Zor governorate districts during the reporting period, with the highest number of overall incidents being recorded in Deir ez-Zor, Albu Kamal and Al Mayadin districts.

Civilian fatalities: data

VDC recorded 207 civilian fatalities in 2020 and 62 civilian fatalities in the first three months of 2021. SNHR recorded 305 civilian fatalities in 2020 and 59 civilian fatalities in the first three months of 2021. For the full reporting period, this represented 269 civilian fatalities in total or approximately 35 civilian fatalities per 100 000 inhabitants according to VDC data; and 364 civilian fatalities in total or approximately 48 civilian fatalities per 100 000 inhabitants according to SNHR.


UNOCHA reported approximately 11 000 IDP movements from Deir ez-Zor governorate in 2020, most of them within the governorate itself. Approximately 5 000 IDP movements from other governorates to Deir ez-Zor were recorded. In the first three months of 2021, approximately 540 new IDP movements from, including within Deir ez-Zor governorate, were recorded by UNOCHA.

Approximately 23 000 IDP return movements to Deir ez-Zor governorate were reported in 2020, including approximately 12 000 returns within the governorate itself. In the first quarter of 2021, approximately 2 900 return movements to Deir ez-Zor governorate were recorded.

Further impact on civilians

Significant infrastructure damage was reported in Deir ez-Zor, including physical capital loss estimated at around 5.5 billion USD between 2011–2018.  

In early December 2020, SOHR reported on ‘escalating protests’ against the corruption of the governance institutions in the SDF-controlled rural parts of Deir ez-Zor governorate. The power in SDF-controlled areas has concentrated disproportionately in the hands of ethnic Kurds and a small group of Arab leaders closely associated with the PYD. Although the Kurds do not have representation in Deir ez-Zor local council, advisors affiliated with the PYD set limits on the council’s ability to make decisions, and many local Arab leaders have complained that Kurds have too much control over the administrative institutions in the governorate. People of several towns in the rural SDF-controlled Deir ez-Zor organised demonstrations in early January 2021 against the 2014 ‘self-defence law’ that enables the forced conscription to the SDF. According to an article published on 8 January 2021, the protests were motivated by the ‘lack of services, arbitrary arrests and alleged discrimination’ by the SDF.


Looking at the indicators, it can be concluded that the degree of indiscriminate violence in Deir ez-Zor governorate reaches such a high level, that substantial grounds are shown for believing that a civilian, returned to the governorate, would, solely on account of their presence on its territory, face a real risk of being subject to the serious threat referred to in Article 15(c) QD.