COLUMBUS – Gov. Ted Strickland said yesterday he was frustrated that a recent comment to a reporter that he didn’t want Iraqi refugees coming to Ohio had attracted national attention and criticism.

“This story has gone on for several days, almost as long as Anna Nicole Smith’s death and burial or Britney Spears’ bald head has occupied time and attention,” he said after his comment triggered a series of newspaper editorials and a flurry of Internet blog activity.

USA Today called his comment “as thoughtless as it was heartless.”

The Democratic governor said his comment was meant to be a criticism of President Bush’s Iraq war policy, not a swipe at Iraqi refugees. The President has proposed bringing about 7,000 refugees to the United States.

“Ted Strickland is not going to stand at the borders of the state and try to turn away suffering people,” said the governor.

In an interview last week with the Associated Press, Mr. Strickland said he didn’t believe refugees should come to the Buckeye State.

“I think Ohio and Ohioans have contributed a lot to Iraq in terms of blood, sweat, and too many tears,” he said at the time. “I am sympathetic to the plight of the innocent Iraqi people who have fled that country. However, I would not want to ask Ohioans to accept a greater burden than they already have borne for the Bush Administration’s failed policies.”

Mr. Strickland yesterday characterized his comment as “inartful.”

“I’m troubled that 40,000 to 50,000 Iraqis flee Iraq every month, that there are estimated to be 2.5 million refugees as a result of this war, and that the President says, ‘I want to bring in several thousand into America,’ ” he said.

“It was in that context that I received the question,” he said. “I also said I’m very sympathetic to the innocent Iraqi people that have been displaced as a result of this war, but Ohio has given a lot and continues to give a lot. That was interpreted as a cruel or hard-hearted response.”

Adnan Mirza, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, accepted the governor’s explanation.

“I was surprised by the comment initially, but just knowing the governor, it seemed a little bit inconsistent,” he said. “I was relieved to hear his clarification.”

If Iraqis are brought to the United States, Mr. Mirza said, “I’d like to see Ohio and Ohioans take a lead in how the situation is handled. If that calls upon us taking on refugees from Iraq, then our community will welcome them with open arms.”


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