Last Updated: Friday, 15 December 2017, 16:28 GMT

Global Overview 2011: People internally displaced by conflict and violence - Iraq

Publisher Norwegian Refugee Council/Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (NRC/IDMC)
Publication Date 19 April 2012
Cite as Norwegian Refugee Council/Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (NRC/IDMC), Global Overview 2011: People internally displaced by conflict and violence - Iraq, 19 April 2012, available at: [accessed 18 December 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Quick facts
Number of IDPs2,300,000-2,600,000
Percentage of total population7.0-8.0%
Start of current displacement situation1968
Peak number of IDPs (Year)2,842,491 (2008)
New displacementAt least 8,000
Causes of displacementArmed conflict, deliberate policy or practice of arbitrary displacement, generalised violence, human rights violations
Human development index132

People in Iraq were displaced up to 2003 by campaigns by the government of Saddam Hussein which considered them opponents; between 2003 and 2005 by the fighting which followed the country's invasion; and from 2006 by sectarian violence between Sunni and Shi'a militias which led to massive civilian casualties and around 1.6 million new IDPs.

By 2011, large-scale new displacement in Iraq had ended, and new displacement was caused only by isolated outbreaks of violence. This sporadic displacement mainly affected members of minorities. Christians continued to be targeted throughout the year, and by the end of 2011, more than half of Iraq's 1.4 million Christians had fled their places of origin.

New displacement also resulted when the armed forces of Turkey and Iran shelled targets in Iraq; up to 1,350 families fled their border villages in the provinces of Sulaymaniyah and Erbil. Although both governments claimed to have been targeting insurgents originating from within their territories, Human Rights Watch concluded that the regular bombardments by the government of Iran were intended to force civilians away from the border areas. In November, about 100 of these newly displaced families remained in the camp set up by local municipalities; the rest returned to their villages, not because the conditions had improved, but due to the lack of support in places of refuge and the extreme winter cold they faced.

People have been internally displaced in Iraq over the years by diverse causes, in a variety of locations and periods. Those displaced by the Ba'ath government of Saddam Hussein were principally from the rural Kurdish north and Shi'a south. However, the sectarian violence which broke out following the bombing of the Askari mosque in February 2006 mostly displaced people from the more urbanised centre of the country: about 90 per cent of this group originated from Baghdad, Diyala or Ninewa. Between 2006 and 2008 about 1.6 million Iraqis were displaced by the sectarian violence, which at its height caused over 2,000 civilian deaths per month. In 2008 estimates of the total number of IDPs, including those displaced under the Ba'ath government, ranged from 2.3 million to as high as 2.6 million.

As security improved to levels better than prior to the bombing of the mosque, IDPs started to return: nearly 200,000 IDPs did so in 2008. Nonetheless, most of those displaced in 2008 were still displaced in 2011, in areas where their own sectarian or ethnic group was dominant. This created demographically homogeneous areas in several of the country's governorates. Members of (neither Sunni nor Shi'a) minorities were predominantly seeking safety in the Kurdish-controlled northern governorates.

During 2011, following the government's decision to quadruple the financial incentives it offered to returning IDPs, the number of IDPs returning increased to over 170,000 after having fallen in 2009 and 2010. But five years after the Askari bombing, violence and displacement continued to affect communities, and IDPs' hopes for a durable solution remained dim. The sustainability of returns and the accuracy of the government's return figures continued to be questioned, and while the government persevered in encouraging return, about 80 per cent of IDPs reported that they would prefer to integrate in the place they had fled to. This demonstrated that they had integrated to some degree in their local communities and that most were unable or unwilling to return due to legal obstacles, the destruction of their social networks there and the lack of housing.

Although the overall level of violence in Iraq has declined, Iraqis still feel insecure, and the country is still more dangerous than others in the Middle East, including those destabilised by social and political upheaval in 2011.

The new government that formed at the beginning of 2011 quickly launched a plan to address the displacement situation; however the plan's implementation and coordination mechanisms were yet to be defined. It focused on incentivising returns, and included little recognition of IDPs' desire to integrate locally or settle elsewhere. Its effectiveness will depend on the development of better mechanisms to involve IDPs in the response and support their stated demands for local integration.

The UN has developed a Development Assistance Framework to coordinate its delivery of assistance from 2011 to 2014. But as the response turns to development activities, there is a risk of serious gaps in protection activities and of a failure to deliver effective assistance because of funding shortfalls. Iraq is considered a middle-income country but it critically lacks technical support. This new phase also ushers in numerous political challenges, as Iraq is still struggling with a system which is neither inclusive nor transparent, and a public sector which is centralised and inefficient. The rule of law remains weak, human rights violations persist and corruption is pervasive, with Iraq the fifth most corrupt country in the world according to Transparency International.

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