Salah al-Din is situated in central Iraq. It is divided into nine districts: al-Dour, al-Shirqat, Balad, Baiji, Fares, Samarra, Thethar, Tuz (disputed territory), and Tikrit. For 2019, the governorate’s estimated population was at 1 637 232. Salah al-Din governorate is predominantly inhabited by Sunni Arabs. The capital of the governorate, Tikrit city, is Saddam Hussein’s place of birth and has been viewed as an important power centre of the Sunni Arabs. Salah al-Din hosts refineries of strategic importance.
ISIL forces captured parts of Salah al-Din governorate in the summer of 2014. Salah al-Din governorate was among the first to be liberated as part of the Iraqi forces’ led offensive against ISIL in 2015. Salah al-Din was also one of the first governorates to witness large-scale return of IDPs. The ISF have the overall responsibility for the security within the governorate and nominally exercise control. The PMU reportedly are in de facto control of much of Salah al-Din governorate. The presence of few Sunni tribal groups was also reported. There have been indications that Peshmerga are also present in the area, however, they lack strong cooperation with ISF, creating operational seams which ISIL exploits. ISIL is still present in the governorate and is operating, especially in the rural and deserted areas.
In May 2020, it was reported that Salah al-Din governorate has consistently been ranked the lowest or second lowest of the six governorates suffering from ISIL insurgency in terms of attacks throughout 2019 and early 2020, but has still seen signs of ISIL recovery. An emerging trend of bomb-making and roadside bomb placement capability has been reported, as well as a focus on attacking isolated checkpoints in stand-up fights involving platoon-sized ISIL units. The targeting of ISIL-opposed Sunni preachers and Tribal Mobilization Force officers was also reported to have been on the increase, while the attacks on village leaders and farmers continued. Following continued and heightened activity of ISIL, the ISF have launched several major coordinated anti-ISIL military operations in response, slowing ISIL’s activity, but not eliminating it. ISIL remnants frequently carry out asymmetric attacks against the Iraqi people and security forces, however, according to observers, the recent ISIL attacks have shown a shift in ISIL’s targets by more frequently and directly taking aim at the ISF and affiliated pro-government forces, thereby weakening these security actors’ ability to provide protection to civilians.
ACLED reported a total of 327 security incidents (average of 4 security incidents per week) in Salah al-Din governorate in the reference period, the majority of which coded as battles and incidents of remote violence/explosions. Security incidents occurred in nearly all districts of the governorate, with the largest overall number being recorded in the districts of al-Daur, Baiji and Tikrit. UNAMI recorded 43 armed conflict related incidents, 31 taking place in 2019 and 12 from 1st January until 31st July 2020 (average of 0.5 security incidents per week for the full reference period).
In the reference period, UNAMI recorded a total of 146 civilian casualties (55 deaths and 91 injuries) in the aforementioned armed conflict related incidents. More specifically, 97 civilian casualties were reported in 2019, and 49 civilian casualties were reported from 1st January until 31st July 2020. Compared to the official figures for the population in the governorate, this represents 9 civilian casualties per 100 000 inhabitants for the full reference period.
As of 30 June 2020, 11 % of the total IDP population in Iraq originated from Salah al-Din governorate. At the same time, Salah al-Din governorate hosted a total number of 68 700 IDPs. Returns to Salah al-Din governorate outpace displacement and Salah al-Din governorate continues to rank third amongst the top governorates of return, with a total of 692 142 returnees recorded as of 30 June 2020, many of them living in severe conditions. During 2019, many IDPs were forced into secondary displacement due to forced and premature returns and forced or coerced departures from camps and informal settlements in Salah Al-Din.
Salah al-Din is one of the governorates with particularly high scores of infrastructure damage as a result of conflict, especially in relation to damage to housing, to the agricultural sector, and to the water, sanitation and hygiene sector. Reconstruction in governorates badly affected by the conflict, including Salah al-Din, was slow throughout 2019. Explosive ordnance contamination is also reported to pose an obstacle to safe returns of IDPs as well as to the implementation of humanitarian activities in Salah al-Din.
Looking at the indicators, it can be concluded that indiscriminate violence is taking place in the governorate of Salah al-Din, however not at a high level and, 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 reference: Security situation 2020, 2.7