"We would like to thank the Iraqi government for its concern about
Palestinians living in Iraq," Abbas said after a meeting with Jalal Talabani, his Iraqi counterpart.

Abbas also met Nuri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, in a trip that marked a major step in improved ties between the Baghdad government and the Palestinian leadership.

Reversal of fortunes

Under Saddam, the more than 34,000 Palestinians living in Iraq enjoyed a privileged status.

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Despair for Jordan's refugees

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Some families of suicide bombers in the occupied Palestinian territories were paid millions of dollars in compensation. But since Saddam's government fell, Palestinians have been attacked, especially by Iraq's armed Shia groups.

Hundreds of Palestinian Sunnis are believed to have been killed in the ensuing sectarian violence.

S aeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said the fate of thousands still stranded at refugee camps along the Iraqi-Syrian border, was the main objective of Abbas's visit.

The UN estimates that more than 2,000 Palestinians remain stranded in desperate conditions, unable to return to Iraq or cross into neighbouring countries.

Since the war, the number of Palestinians living in Iraq has dropped by nearly 50 per cent, according to the UN.

"Palestinians in Iraq have been forcibly evicted, arbitrarily arrested, abusively detained, publicly slandered, kidnapped and killed," a UN report on refugees in Iraq in April 2008 said.