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Risking Israel's ire, US takes 1,350 Palestinian refugees

The US is generally reluctant to resettle Palestinians, but these are refugees from Iraq who have been targeted since the invasion.

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"This is politically a real hot potato," says Mark Krikorian, director of the conservative Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, adding, "[A]merica has become a dumping ground for the State Department's problems – they're tossing their problems over their head into Harrisburg, Pa., or Omaha, Neb."

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Saddam's guests

Palestinian refugees came to Iraq in successive waves over several decades, first in 1948, then in 1967, and in 1991. They were treated well under Hussein but were also used to attack Israeli policies, and their presence was resented by many Iraqis.

After Hussein was deposed in 2003, many of these Palestinians were driven out of their homes and now live "at the mercy of the weather" in rough camps along the Syrian and Jordanian border, says Mr. Ben-Meir. The number of Palestinians in Iraq has fallen from around 34,000 to an estimated 15,000, with about 2,773 living in camps, according to the State Department.

The US, which takes in about 80,000 refugees annually, hopes to bring 17,000 Iraqi refugees this year.

Categorized as Iraqi refugees

While the US generally doesn't accept Palestinians, Todd Pierce, a spokesman for the State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, says that the Iraqi population of Palestinians falls under a different category from those in Gaza and the West Bank. Each applicant will be carefully scrutinized for terrorist ties, he adds.

The US reluctance to accept Palestinians is because it "doesn't want the refugee program to become an issue in its relationship with Israel," says a diplomat in the region, who requested anonymity because he is not cleared to talk to the press. But these Palestinians, he says, will be processed as refugees from Iraq.

Mr. Krikorian says the US should be the last refuge for those fleeing persecution. Only Jordan of all the Arab countries routinely grants citizenship to Palestinian refugees, he notes. More recently, says Mr. Frelick, Jordan has also shut its borders to Palestinians coming from Iraq.

Frelick, who has visited a camp on the Jordanian border, said the Iraqi Palestinians are "apolitical," and "basically desperate, scared, miserable, and ready to just get out of Iraq."

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