The governorate of Ninewa (or Nineveh) is located in north and northwest Iraq. It borders Syria and the governorates of Dohuk, Erbil, Salah al-Din and Anbar. The governorate is divided into nine districts: Mosul (also capital city), Tel Kayf, Sheikhan, Akre, Tal Afar, Sinjar, Ba’aj, al-Hatra, and Hamdaniya. Akre and northern Sheikhan districts have been administered by the KRG since 1991. Ninewa governorate had a population estimated at 3 828 197 inhabitants in 2019 and it is one of the most ethnically diverse governorates of Iraq. Sunni Arabs constitute the majority, but other groups also share power and influence.
Mosul was taken over and occupied by ISIL in June 2014, leading to the displacement of nearly 1 million people within weeks. The battle to regain Mosul was characterised as the hardest confrontation between ISIL and the Iraqi government forces during the whole conflict from 2014 until present. Victory over ISIL was officially announced in July 2017. As of July 2020, the majority of the governorate of Ninewa was under the control of the Iraqi government. The KRG was in control of certain areas in the north of the governorate. PMU forces were also reported to be present and active in a wide range of areas in Ninewa. ISF and PMU were accused of using their power for gaining revenue through illegal activities which in turn weakened their combat capabilities. Tribal Mobilization Forces and non-aligned militias, such as YBS and PKK were also present in the area. Foreign actors, mainly Iran, Turkey and the International Coalition to Defeat ISIL are also involved in Ninewa. Despite not having territorial control in the governorate, ISIL continued to carry out attacks against Iraqi security forces and civilians in 2019 and 2020.
Military ground operations by the ISF and PMU against ISIL took the form of regular armed clashes, including shootings or attacks with explosives. Security operations took place not only in rural and remote areas, but also near or in populated places. Airstrikes against presumed ISIL positions were conducted by the Iraqi Air Force and the International coalition, while the Turkish Air Force attacked positions of Kurdish and Yazidi militia, resulting in civilian casualties. The surge of attacks by ISIL since the summer of 2019 was primarily due to an increase in roadside bombings. More advanced tactics in the use of IEDs, like chains of multiple IEDs to enlarge impact zones, booby-trapping of houses to kill security forces and using attacks as a bait to draw forces onto roadside bombs, were witnessed. Even though the majority of casualties from roadside bombings were members of the security forces, there were also civilian casualties. Another tactic used by the insurgents was firing mortar or small arms rounds into populated areas and attacking and killing of village mukhtars. Demonstrations were also reported in the area.
ACLED reported a total of 292 security incidents (average of 3.5 security incidents per week) in Ninewa governorate in the reference period, the majority of which coded as remote violence/explosions. Security incidents occurred in nearly all districts, with the largest overall number being recorded in the district of Mosul. UNAMI recorded 89 armed conflict related incidents, 62 taking place in 2019, and 27 taking place between 1st January and 31st July 2020 (average of 1.1 security incidents per week for the full reference period).
In the reference period, UNAMI recorded a total of 221 civilian casualties (82 deaths and 139 injuries) in the aforementioned armed conflict related incidents. More specifically, 174 casualties were reported in 2019, and 47 casualties were reported from 1st January until 31st July 2020. Compared to the official figures for the population in the governorate, this represents 14 civilian casualties per 100 000 inhabitants for the full reference period.
As of 30 June 2020, 324 078 individuals from Ninewa remained displaced, out of whom 319 128 were displaced inside the governorate. Ninewa governorate ranks first amongst the governorates in terms of return, with 1 807 170 returnees, mainly towards Mosul district. Considerable secondary displacement because of forced and premature returns and forced or coerced departures from camps and informal settlements was also witnessed. The security situation remained the main issue of concern among returnees. Blocked returns were also reported.
The debris caused by Mosul destruction was reported to be heavily contaminated with explosive devices of different kinds, including unexploded ordnance and booby-traps, with one source declaring that the explosives contamination in Mosul is of a previously unseen magnitude. Significant destruction of houses was also reported, while the reconstruction of the destroyed neighbourhoods of Mosul is advancing at a slow pace, due to the extent of the damage and the lack of funding by the Iraqi state. The lack of access to basic services (water, electricity, education) remains a challenge to the rural areas of the Ninewa Plains and Sinjar. The district of Sinjar is also suffering an intense contamination with unexploded ammunition and IEDs deliberately left by ISIL.
Looking at the indicators, it can be concluded that ‘mere presence’ in the area would not be sufficient to establish a real risk of serious harm under Article 15(c) QD in the governorate of Ninewa, however, indiscriminate violence reaches a high level, and, accordingly, a lower level of individual elements is required 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, 2.6