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Following the refugee trail

WASHINGTON // In the two and a half years since the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samara inspired whole new levels of sectarian violence across Iraq, hundreds of thousands have fled their homeland. More than 2 million have now settled in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and other countries, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. That's nearly one in 10 Iraqis.

I leave today for the Middle East to begin reporting on the Iraqi refugee crisis. In the coming weeks, I will travel in Jordan and Syria, the countries that have taken in the largest numbers, to meet with government officials, aid workers, ordinary Jordanians and Syrians, and, of course, the refugees themselves. I'll be exploring the ways in which the exodus is reshaping the region.

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The United States has come under criticism for what refugee advocates say has been a failure to respond adequately to a crisis that came as a result of the U.S.-led invastion of Iraq. I'll be exploring those criticisms, too.

And after I get back, I'll check in on some Iraqis who have been resettled in Maryland. The state isn't getting as many as those that already have large Iraqi communities -- Michigan, California and New Jersey -- but it has taken in a few during the last several months, with more to come.

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I've already done some reporting on the issue, from Washington. In the spring of 2007, I spoke by telephone with Khalid Abboud al-Khafajee, an Iraqi who fled for Jordan after the Madhi Army threatened him for working as an interpreter for the U.S. Marines in Fallujah.

Last fall, I met with Ban Saadi Abdallatif, a schoolteacher who was resettled in Maryland after an uncle and cousin were shot dead in Diyala. And I spoke with Basil Majdi, a member of the minority Mandaean Sabian sect, who left for Syria after he was threatened by both Shiites and Sunnis.

But telephone reporting is no substitute for going to a place and speaking with people face to face. Thanks to funding from the International Center for Journalists and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, I leave Washington today for Paris, and then on to Amman, to begin reporting stories for The Baltimore Sun.

As I travel, I'll be describing my experiences here.

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