Iraq

Country Information

Source
Population UN Population Division (as of 2016)
Number of IDPs (Conflict and violence) IDMC (as of 2016)
New displacements (Conflict and violence) IDMC (as of 2016)
Refugees UNHCR (as of 2016)

Conflict and violence displacement figures

Latest GRID confidence assessment

Displacement type IDPs (Stock) New Displacement (Flow)
Reporting units People
Households
People
Households
Methodology Key informants
Key informants
Geographical disaggregation Admin 2 or more Admin 2 or more
Geographical coverage No No
Frequency of reporting More than once a month More than once a month
Disaggregation on sex No No
Disaggregation on age No No
Data triangulation Some local triangulation Some local triangulation
Data on settlement elsewhere No No
Data on returns Yes Yes
Data on local integration No No
Data on deaths No No
Data on births No No

Latest GRID figures analysis

Displacement in Iraq in 2016 was driven by joint Kurdish and Iraqi army military operations to retake key cities and areas in Ninewa, Erbil, Salah al Din and Kirkuk governorates. The operation to retake Mosul was launched on 17 October and caused one third of all the displacements recorded in the past year.

Download extended figures analysis (PDF, 246 KB)

Latest GRID stock figure by year of data update

Disaster displacement figures

New displacements

Overview

The humanitarian and displacement situation in Iraq is one of the most severe and volatile crises in the world. The conflict between the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and government forces, along with fighting involving other ethnic factions such as the Kurds, has effectively divided the territory into three distinct entities. Historically, displacement in Iraq has been driven by a combination of internal armed conflict, generalised violence, and persecution on the basis of political affiliation, ethnic or religious background.

Drivers of displacement

Internal displacement caused by conflict in Iraq can be divided into three periods: the current displacement crisis, which started in 2014; the protracted displacement situation, which arose as a result of the sectarian conflict from 2006 to 2008; and earlier protracted displacement caused by conflict, mainly related to the policies of the government under Saddam Hussein.

The fragmentation of Iraq began during Hussein’s rule, which weakened national governmental institutions such as the army and led to the rise of militias. The US intervention further increased fragmentation within the country. The growth of non-state armed groups (NSAGs) and ISIL resulted in part from years of political marginalisation of Sunnis. In particular, the rapid expansion of ISIL is a result of Sunni insurgency and the power vacuum left by the collapse of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF).

In 2014, following the spread of ISIL across major regions in Iraq and intense clashes between ISF and NSAGs, displacement reached its peak at 2.2 million people, the largest number of IDPs worldwide. In April 2014, ISIL captured Falluja, a city in the al-Anbar governorate, and displaced 80,000 families. As armed groups controlled nearly 85 per cent of the governorate, there was intense fighting with between them in many locations across the governorate. Daily battles and clashes, along with airstrikes carried out by the international coalition, restricted the movement of displaced people and worsened the security situation in the province.

After the fall of Falluja, ISIL launched a major offensive and captured Mosul, the central city of Ninewa province and the second-largest city in Iraq, on 10 June 2014. Two days after the fall of Mosul, all inhabitants vacated the predominantly Sunni of city Tikrit, the capital of Salah al-Din. Due to the ongoing conflicts, nearly one million people in Mosul live in areas inaccessible to humanitarians. The intensification of military activities is likely to trigger new, larger-scale displacement. ISIL’s prime targets are non-Muslim Iraqi minorities, and Shiites and Sunnis who challenge their authority.

In response to the infiltration of ISIL, ISF, Kurdish Security Forces and Shi’a militias belonging to the Popular Mobilisation Forces launched a series of operations to retake the fallen regions. On 17 October 2016, government forces launched an offensive to retake control of eastern Mosul from ISIL. By mid-January 2017, 160,000 people had fled Mosul, many to camps in the south and east of the city. As an estimated 4,000 people are being displaced daily in Mosul, the operation to take it back may turn out to be the single largest humanitarian operation in the world in 2017.

The military operations and subsequent battles between government and pro-government forces on one side and ISIL on the other have significantly affected the people trapped between the opposing sides. ISIL is said to have abducted families, men, women and children from their homes and used them as human shields to corner the advancing Iraqi forces, thus leaving the Iraqis to be killed either by ISIL or by the exchange of fire between sides.

Prospects for lasting peace are slim because of post-liberation risks, including political and military unrest between liberating forces, weak reconstruction efforts and increased sectarian tensions and mistreatment.

Patterns of displacement

Due to the various parties fighting each other in Iraq, the country is divided into three distinct entities. As of June 2015, 42 per cent of IDPs lived in areas under ISF control, 38 per cent were in the Kurdish region and around 20 per cent lived in areas controlled by ISIL.

The fall of Falluja in January 2014 caused a massive influx of IDPs throughout Iraq. In April 2014, ISIL took control of a dam in Falluja, diverted irrigation water and caused severe flooding, which displaced 7,000 families. It is estimated that if the dam were to collapse, it would flood Mosul, Tikrit, Baghdad and Samarra, cause large-scale displacement and infrastructural destruction, and could kill as many as 1.5 million people. The violence in Anbar displaced 550,000 people in 2014.

By October 2015, in addition to 3.2 million IDPs, there were 400,000 returnees in Iraq. The Anwar and Ninewa governorates host 60 per cent of people in need and are the epicentre of the crisis. After capturing Mosul, Ninewa’s largest city, ISIL went on to take the town of Sinjar, 120 kilometres away from Mosul, and enslaved thousands of Yazidi females for sex, kidnapped thousands of young Yazidi males for training to become fighters, and displaced 200,000 Yazidis

As of June 2015, Baghdad hosted 62 per cent of people displaced from Anbar, as the city attracts large numbers of IDPs due to its proximity to conflict areas and low cost of living. Many IDPs also took refuge in southern governorates, with 94 per cent of IDPs in Najaf and 89 per cent in Karbala originally coming from Ninewa. The Kurdish region of Iraq is perceived as a safe haven for minorities, and members of the Christian community fled to shelters in Erbil and Dohuk. Dohuk hosts the largest number of IDPs in the Kurdish region. The IDPs living in areas controlled by ISIL were unable to access safer areas due to restrictions on their movement imposed by ISIL and ISF.

By June 2016, military operations across Iraq had displaced more than 260,000 people in Ninewa, Erbil, Salah al-Din and Kirkuk governorates. Despite government and Kurdish forces reclaiming key cities from ISIL, security remains volatile across the country. Even though most of the displacement occurred when ISIL took over in 2014, operations to recapture territories held by ISIL are causing additional waves of displacement.

The battle to retake Mosul is affecting densely populated areas such as the Al Kuwait, Al Tayaran and Wadi Hajar neighbourhoods. By October 2016, military operations for the liberation of Mosul had displaced 90,000 people, mostly from Salah al-Din and Ninewa province. As of March 2017, a total of 191,826 people had been displaced by ISF’s military operations to retake Mosul from ISIL.

Priority needs and vulnerabilities

Food, water and shelter remain the priority needs of IDPs. Nearly 72 per cent of displaced households ranked food security as their top priority, and 42 per cent reported livelihood opportunities as their second priority. Shelter and health concerns were also reported as top needs by IDPs. An estimated 1.6 million IDPs live in critical water, sanitation and hygiene conditions. Moreover, as nearly 90 per cent of IDPs live in host communities, the financial burden on those communities is very high, and destitution is widespread in displaced and host families alike.

Dwindling resources affect IDPs disproportionately, and food insecurity is higher in IDP households and host communities. In December 2016, 85 per cent of IDPs in Mosul were in emergency camps, where they face severe shortages of basic services. Their priority needs are shelter, heating and fuel, and warm clothing. In March 2017, IDPs in west Mosul reported that they had no access to water or electricity.

Children are estimated to account for half of the entire IDP population and are at risk of violence, injury, recruitment into terrorist groups, sexual violence or death. As of December 2016, nearly 600,000 displaced children had missed an entire year of education. Only 50 per cent of displaced children within camps and 30 per cent outside of camps attend school. By January 2017, the government’s operations to recapture Mosul had displaced 100,221 children.

Selected references

Iraq: IDPs caught between a rock and a hard place as displacement crisis deepens, June 2015

Ministry of Displacement and Migration National Policy on Displacement, July 2008

Iraq 2017 Humanitarian Needs Overview, March 2017

Report of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons on his mission to Iraq, April 2016

UN Security Council Resolution 2233, July 2015

Law and policy database