A definition of an international or an internal armed conflict within the meaning of Article 15(c) QD is not provided by the Qualification Directive itself. In Diakité, the CJEU interprets the concept of ‘internal armed conflict’ under Article 15(c) QD and concludes that it must be given an interpretation, which is autonomous from international humanitarian law:
…internal armed conflict exists, for the purposes of applying that provision, if a State’s armed forces confront one or more armed groups or if two or more armed groups confront each other. It is not necessary for that conflict to be categorised as ‘armed conflict not of an international character’ under international humanitarian law;
In Diakité, the CJEU sets a low threshold to assess whether an armed conflict is taking place, noting that,
nor is it necessary to carry out, in addition to an appraisal of the level of violence present in the territory concerned, a separate assessment of the intensity of the armed confrontations, the level of organisation of the armed forces involved or the duration of the conflict.
Furthermore, in the context of Article 15(c) QD, differentiation between ‘international’ or ‘internal’ armed conflict is not necessary, as the provision is equally applicable in situations of international and internal armed conflict.
It should also be noted that an armed conflict can be taking place only in parts of the territory.
There are multiple overlapping non-international (internal) armed conflicts taking place in Iraq, most prominently, the conflict between the Iraqi government and ISIL. The Iraqi government is supported by a range of actors, including the Peshmerga, a range of PMU and other militia armed groups, and an international coalition led by the US. [Security situation 2020, 1.1.1.]
Parts of Iraq are also affected by an international armed conflict involving Turkey, as the conflict in Turkey between Turkey and the PKK has extended to the northern Iraqi territory [Security situation 2020, 1.1.3.].
The section Indiscriminate violence in Iraq provides further guidance with regard to the geographical scope of the armed conflicts taking place on the territory of Iraq.