THE Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq has claimed mosques in Blackburn are more extreme than in his home country, according to an MP. The shock comments were allegedly made by Dr Barham Salih, who visited the town as a guest of Jack Straw in 2005.
He is reported to have told a Conservative MP: "I am not surprised that you British are facing so many problems with extremists after what I saw in those mosques in Blackburn. What I saw...would not be allowed here in Iraq - it would be illegal."
The comments have angered mosque leaders in the town, who have branded them "a load of rubbish".
The Lancashire Telegraph has sent a fax to Dr Salih via the Iraqi Embassy in London asking him to explain his views.
Shadow culture minister Tobias Ellwood said Dr Salih was speaking to him at a dinner party in Baghdad in November. Mr Ellwood made the claims during a Westminster debate about terrorism. Speaking after the debate, Mr Ellwood said: "I know Jack Straw well, but my eyebrows raise when you have a very senior Iraqi leader make comments like that. I do not believe these comments can be dismissed out of hand. I was absolutely shocked. He went inside the mosques, and said literature he saw would be illegal. He was quite clear. The comments are only directed at a very small proportion of mosques in the UK - the vast majority of Muslims wouldn't want to be labelled."
Salim Mulla, of the Lancashire Council of Mosques, reacted furiously to the comments. He said Dr Salih spoke positively about what he had seen when they spoke during his visit. Mr Mulla said: "We are going out of our way to bring the community together.
Nobody is working harder than us at breaking down barriers. For Dr Salih to make these sort of comments is not very helpful at all.
I don't know where he's coming from. He was very co-operative when he visited, and took lots of photographs. How many incidents have we had in Blackburn? He is talking a load of rubbish."
Dr Salih, a Sunni Muslim, was elected in January 2005 to Iraq's first democratically-held elections in 50 years.
During his visit to Blackburn, in the run up to the 2005 general election, he told an audience at Audley Community Centre not to vote against Mr Straw, then foreign secretary, because of the war in Iraq.
Coun Mulla said he could not remember which mosques Dr Salih had visited.
Mr Straw could not be contacted for comment.
Source: Blackburn Citizen (English)
See also: Sweden: Grappling with Iraqi refugees