Iraqi refugee timeline

Early 2003

The United States prepares to lead the invasion of Iraq. The United States and others position personnel and supplies in the region to respond to a possible refugee crisis.

March 19, 2003

President George W. Bush announces the start of combat. Troops enter Baghdad in April; Bush announces the end of major combat operations May 1. Aid workers assist the return of Iraqis exiled during the rule of Saddam Hussein.


Attacks on U.S. and Iraqi troops and civilians continue; security deteriorates.

Feb. 22, 2006

The bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra fuels new levels of sectarian violence, triggering the exodus of Iraqis to Syria, Jordan and other neighbors.

November 2006

One hundred thousand Iraqis are fleeing every month, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees reports. Refugee populations are estimated at 1 million in Syria, 750,000 in Jordan and 150,000 in Egypt. More than 2 million are displaced inside Iraq.

Nov. 23, 2006

Coordinated car bombings in Sadr City kill at least 215 and wound more than 250 in the deadliest attacks since the invasion.

December 2006

Jordan closes its borders to most Iraqis. The Iraq Study Group warns that growing displacements threaten regional stability. Kirk W. Johnson, a former reconstruction coordinator for the U.S. Agency for International Development in Fallujah, begins a list of Iraqis seeking resettlement after being targeted for working with the United States.

Jan. 10, 2007

Bush announces a surge of 20,000 additional troops to reverse growing violence in Iraq.

Jan. 16, 2007

In Baghdad, the U.N. Assistance Mission to Iraq reports that more than 34,000 civilians were killed in 2006. In Washington, the Senate Judiciary Committee hears testimony from Iraqis attacked for working with the United States. Ellen Sauerbrey, assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration, tells the panel that the refugee crisis is "the very top priority for my bureau," and that Iraqis could use the "overwhelming majority" of 20,000 open resettlement slots for the year.

Feb. 3, 2007

A truck bomb in a Baghdad market kills at least 135 and wounds more than 335 in the deadliest single attack since the invasion.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announces the Iraq Refugee and Internationally Displaced Task Force to address the crisis. Paula J. Dobriansky, undersecretary of state for democracy and global affairs, describes plans to "process expeditiously" 7,000 Iraqis for resettlement to the United States.

April 17, 2007

At an international conference in Geneva, Sauerbrey says the United States could resettle 25,000 Iraqis by the end of the fiscal year in September.

June 19, 2007

Sens. Edward M. Kennedy, a Democrat of Massachusetts, and Gordon Smith, a Republican of Oregon, introduce legislation to require in-country processing for refugees and expand the number of special immigrant visas available to Iraqi employees of the U.S. military, government, contractors and media.

Summer 2007

Syria denies visas to Homeland Security officials seeking to interview candidates for resettlement to the United States.

July 7, 2007

In a cable to Rice, Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, says nine embassy employees have been killed and asks that all Iraqi staff be granted special immigrant visas to the United States.

July 18, 2007

Civilian deaths surpass an average of 100 per day, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq reports.

Sept. 7, 2007

Crocker sends another cable saying the resettlement process is too slow and Syria and Jordan need help.

Sept. 12, 2007

Campaigning in Iowa, Sen. Barack Obama calls the displacement "a threat to the security of the Middle East and to our common humanity" and pledges at least $2 billion to support refugees and internally displaced Iraqis, but does not mention resettlements.

Sept. 30, 2007

At the end of the fiscal year, the United States has admitted 1,608 Iraqis. Ambassador James B. Foley and Department of Homeland Security official Lori Scialabba are appointed to coordinate Iraqi refugee issues; they will announce plans to admit 12,000 Iraqis by the end of September 2008.

October 2007

Syria closes its borders to most Iraqis.

November 2007

Syria agrees to grant visas to Homeland Security officials. The Iraqi embassy in Damascus organizes bus trips back to Baghdad for several hundred refugee families. Hundreds of thousands more remain in exile.

Dec. 31, 2007

With 899 deaths, 2007 is the deadliest year for U.S. troops in Iraq.

Jan. 9, 2008

The World Health Organization estimates civilian deaths from the invasion through mid-2006 at 151,000.

Jan. 28, 2008

Bush signs the Defense Authorization Act of 2009, which includes the Kennedy-Smith legislation requiring in-country processing for refugees and expanding visas for Iraqi employees from 500 to 5,000 per year.

March 4, 2008

After meeting King Abdullah of Jordan, Bush makes his only public comments on the refugee crisis. He says Abdullah "pointed out something which I knew, but I wasn't exactly sure how it was affecting his country, that there are roughly three-quarters of a million Iraqi citizens who have moved to Jordan. And we talked about a common strategy about how to make sure that those citizens ended up hopefully going home to Iraq as the security situation improved, but also, while they're in Jordan, not create terrible issues for the government."

March 23, 2008

The U.S. military death toll reaches 4,000.

June 2008

Bombings in Baghdad and Diyala kill more than 75.

Sept. 11, 2008

The United States admits the 12,000th Iraqi of the fiscal year, meeting the goal for the first time. The final number for fiscal 2008 is 13,823. Foley and Scialabba say they expect the United States to admit at least 17,000 by the end of fiscal 2009.

Sources: State Department, Department of Homeland Security, The New York Times, Human Rights First, the List Project

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