Immigration into Iraq was limited until the beginning of the 1970s. However, the rise in oil prices and the increase of oil exports, as well as extensive public and private spending in the mid-1970s, created a market for foreign labor. The result was a stream of foreign (mainly Egyptian) workers whose number may have risen as high as 1,600,000 before the Gulf War. During the Iran–Iraq war, many Egyptians worked in the public sector, filling a gap left by civil servants, farmers, and other workers who were fighting at the front. A number of Iraqis from the south, mainly Basra and its environs, influenced by family ties and higher wages, migrated to Sa'udi Arabia and Kuwait. To weaken local support in the north for Kurdish rebels, the government forced tens of thousands of Kurds to resettle in the south; in September 1987, a Western diplomat in Baghdad claimed that at least 500 Kurdish villages had been razed and 100,000 to 500,000 Kurds relocated.
In 1991 some 1.5 million Iraqis fled the country for Turkey or Iran to escape Saddam Hussein's increasingly repressive rule, but fewer than 100,000 remained abroad. Most of the refugees were Kurds who later resettled in areas in Iraq not controlled by the government. In September and October of 1996, around 65,000 Iraqi Kurds fled to Iran due to internal fighting between the Iraqi Kurds.
As of 1999, the UNHCR assisted 31,400 refugees in Iraq. Of these, 19,000 were Iranian Kurds, and 11,300 were Turkish Kurds. Another some 1,100 urban refugees of various nationalities live in Baghdad. In addition to these UNHCR-assisted refugees, Iraq hosts some 62,000 Palestinian refugees and an estimated 10,000 Iranians in the south of the country.
UNHCR also facilitates the voluntary return of Turkish Kurds from Iraq to Turkey. More than half of the Iranian Kurd refugees in Al-Tash have likewise expressed their desire to return to Iran.
In 1999 the net migration rate was zero migrants per 1,000 population.