updated 10/1/2007 9:28:56 PM ET 2007-10-02T01:28:56

The United States admitted more than 1,600 Iraqi refugees over the past 12 months, but still fell short of its goal for the year despite a last-minute push to reach a reduced target of 2,000, according to State Department figures.

Amid a furor over the slow pace of admissions for the world’s fastest growing refugee population, the Bush administration allowed 1,608 Iraqis into the country between last September and this October, the span covering the government’s fiscal 2007.

In February, officials said they hoped to process about 7,000 Iraqi refugees for resettlement in the United States, but sharply reduced that target to 2,000 over the summer when it became clear the original figure could not be met.

The blame for the slow pace is placed on bureaucratic slowdowns — including bickering between the State Department, which is in charge of refugee resettlement, and the Department of Homeland Security, which must screen would-be admittees. Another factor was a lack of cooperation from some foreign countries.

The poor performance sparked criticism from refugee advocacy groups and lawmakers who complained that Washington was not doing enough for those who have fled the violence in Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

But admission figures from the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, obtained Monday by The Associated Press, show a significant improvement in admissions of Iraqis over the past two months.

From a low of one Iraqi admitted in both April and May, the number shot up to 529 in August and 889 in September as the administration worked to streamline the process, according to an internal spreadsheet.

Senior officials to help clear logjam
On Sept. 19, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced the appointment of two senior officials from their agencies to clear the logjam that had hampered admissions.

Several days later, administration officials announced that the United States would accept 1,000 Iraqi refugees per month for the next fiscal year beginning this month for a total of 12,000 between Sept. 30, 2007, and Oct. 1, 2008.

The administration had acknowledged a “moral obligation” to protect Iraqi refugees and to admit as many as possible that are referred for resettlement by the United Nations. That number has now surpassed 10,000, officials say.

However, Iraqis are subject to more security screening than other would-be refugees and that process has been hindered by a lack of cooperation from some countries, notably Syria, where the majority of Iraqi refugees are now living.

According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 2 million Iraqis have fled their country. Of these, 1.2 million are in Syria, 750,000 in Jordan, 100,000 in Egypt, 54,000 in Iran, 40,000 in Lebanon. 10,000 in Turkey and 200,000 in various Persian Gulf countries.

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