The bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra, one of Shiite Islam's holiest shrines, ushered in one of the bloodiest episodes of the Iraq war. After its gilded dome was ripped open to the sky, sectarian strife exploded. The day after the bombing in February 2006, dozens of Sunni mosques were attacked, many people were killed and a period of massive displacement began. Millions of Iraqis fled to Syria and Jordan if they could, or relocated within Iraq if they could not.
Today, almost four years later, the International Rescue Committee estimates that there are still between 1 million and 2 million Iraqi refugees outside the country and another 2 million displaced people inside. As the United States winds down its presence, many of these Iraqis can't go home because of continuing suicide bombings and other violence, but have yet to resettle elsewhere. Particularly vulnerable if they try to return are those who allied themselves with the U.S., working as translators, cooks, drivers, assistants or in any capacity with the military, contractors or businesses.
The United States was embarrassingly slow to help this category of refugees resettle, dragging its feet until Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) insisted the nation had a moral obligation to do so and spearheaded bipartisan legislation to facilitate the process. President Bush signed the 2008 Defense Authorization Act, which established a special immigrant visa for Iraqis targeted because of their affiliation with the United States.