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A family made homeless by violence sits outside their makeshift shelter in northern Iraq
Millions uprooted

Iraq Crisis Watch

The International Rescue Committee helps Iraqis and Syrian refugees who have been displaced by conflict to survive and empowers communities to rebuild.

What's happening

  • Eight months into the battle to retake west Mosul, hundreds of thousands of civilians could still be trapped under ISIS control.

  • Over 650,000 are displaced by the fighting, with many more expected to flee as the battle enters the most dangerous phase yet.

  • The IRC has distributed blankets, soap, spare clothing and mattresses to people sheltering in camps outside Mosul as well as cash relief for those living in the east of the city. We're also providing specialised support to vulnerable women and children.

Read more about Mosul
Country facts
  • Total population: 33.4 million
  • People displaced by crisis: 3.4 million Iraqis and 246,000 Syrian refugees
  • Rank in Human Development Index: 121 of 188
IRC response
  • Started work in Iraq: 2003
  • People assisted in 2015: 109,638

Iraq crisis briefing

The IRC provides humanitarian relief and ongoing support to 3.4 million Iraqis affected by crisis, as well as a quarter-million Syrian refugees.

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What caused the current crisis in Iraq?

After the invasion by coalition forces in 2003, Iraq began fracturing along sectarian lines, ushering in a period of violence and displacement.  After war broke out in neighbouring Syria in 2011, ISIS took advantage of societal tensions and grievances in the region.

ISIS captured parts of Anbar in 2013, then swept through Sinjar and Mosul in a brutal 2014 campaign that forced scores to flee their homes. Over 3 million Iraqis now live in harsh conditions in camps and unfamiliar towns, with limited access to schools or jobs.

What are the main humanitarian challenges in Iraq?

Thousands of Iraqis remain in desperate need of shelter, food, water and safety because of ongoing conflict and economic chaos.  

The IRC organizes art therapy for Syrian refugee children in Arbat refugee camp. Photo: Kamil Hashem/IRC

Families have been displaced as many as two or three times. Traumatised children are packed into overcrowded schools or work on the streets to help support their families. Girls are particularly vulnerable and at risk for abuse and early marriage.

Syrian refugees who have lived for years in camps inside Iraq face dwindling services and support. As options run out, some choose to make the dangerous journey to Europe, or even to return to war-torn Syria.

How does the IRC help in Iraq?

The IRC’s mission is to help people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover and gain control of their future.

We first began working in Iraq in 2003, providing humanitarian relief and recovery assistance to the most vulnerable and crisis-affected Iraqis. We also have provided emergency support to thousands of Syrians fleeing the civil war that began in 2011. The IRC now works in 13 out of 18 Iraqi governorates, with main offices in Baghdad, Erbil, Sulaymaniyah, and Duhok. Specifically, the IRC:  

  • provides cash assistance to displaced families
  • operates parenting-skills classes to reduce violence against children at home
  • provides counselling, group activities and legal support to women and girls
  • supports extra classes and specialised teacher training in overtaxed schools to ensure Iraqi and Syrian children have access to quality education
  • provides skills and business training to Syrian and Iraqi youth, and life-skills programs for teenage girls
  • identifies safety issues and rights violations through extensive community monitoring and reporting

What still needs to be done in Iraq?

The IRC’s work in Iraq is more critical than ever as conflict continues and large numbers of people remain at risk. We pledge to put the needs of those most affected by crisis at the forefront of our efforts and to achieve measurable improvements in safety, power, education, and economic well-being.


The IRC will continue to provide emergency legal assistance and referrals for those in danger.

For those suffering from psychological trauma, we will offer support to promote healing.

We will also work to ensure equal outcomes for women and girls where they live, learn and work.


The IRC will continue to document the state of people’s shelter, safety and rights, providing information and service referrals particularly to the most marginalised.

Our advocacy work in partnership with local and international groups will elevate the needs of Iraqis and Syrian refugees with policy makers and donors.


The IRC is committed to expanding programmes for Syrian and Iraqi children by providing specially trained teachers and safe classrooms.

We will also reduce class size and increase access to education by paying teacher incentives.

Economic wellbeing

The IRC will continue to provide cash assistance to vulnerable and uprooted families. We will also help Syrian refugees and displaced Iraqis find safe and legal work opportunities.

As in all our efforts, the IRC will strive to reach more people more quickly, increase the effectiveness of our work, listen to the concerns of those affected by our work, and hold ourselves accountable for results.

Download the IRC Iraq strategy action plan to learn more about our programme priorities until 2020.

Our impact

In 2015, the IRC and our partner organisations in Iraq provided:


people with cash assistance to help those displaced by crisis meet their basic needs.

We’re one of the leading providers of cash assistance in Iraq, giving Syrian refugees and displaced Iraqis the opportunity to make their own decisions.

Explore our cash work.

people with legal assistance and representation.

We offer legal guidance and critical support to the most vulnerable individuals at our many clinics in the country.

Explore our governance work.

children and youth with education and training opportunities.

We are training teachers in Iraq, many displaced themselves, to help provide safe learning environments for children uprooted by war.

Read their story.

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