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Iraq politician clarifies Blackburn mosques comments
The Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq has responded in a row over alleged extremism in Blackburn's mosques.
An MP claimed Dr Barham Salih had told him what he saw when he visited Blackburn in 2005 would be illegal even in Iraq.
But Dr Salih, in a statement which did not address exactly what he said to the MP, said his comments had been "taken out of context and misconstrued".
At a dinner party in Baghdad in November Dr Salih was reported to have told Tory Tobias Ellwood: "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 drew a furious response from mosque leaders in East Lancashire. And writing in the Lancashire Telegraph, Blackburn MP Jack Straw, who had invited Dr Salih to Blackburn, said the reaction to the comments had "unjustly" given British Muslims a bad name.
In his response to the row, Dr Salih said: "It has come to my attention that comments I made at an informal meeting regarding extremism among the Muslim community in Britain have been taken out of context and misconstrued.
"As a Muslim, it is my duty to speak out when injustices are committed against Islam.
"My statements must not be taken out of the wider context of the efforts of millions of Muslims world-wide who are concerned about acts of hijacking of their faith by extremists.
"Iraq has been a victim of terrible acts of violence that are perpetuated in the name of Islam and hence our priority in Iraq to combat violent extremism."
Dr Salih, who has lived and studied in the UK, said the "overwhelming majority" of British Muslims were law abiding and true to the tolerant spirit of Islam, but said intolerance and fanaticism were a "major threat" to world peace.
"Muslims and other people of faith have a duty to confront extremism and protect the true values of tolerance and peace enshrined in our faith."
British Muslims should retain their identity but not use this as an excuse to become isolated from society, he said.
"There are extremists who want to keep the Muslim communities isolated from the wider world and preach hatred.
"It is our duty as Muslims to confront such distortions of the true values of Islam."
Describing his visit to Blackburn, Dr Salih, who used it to urge people not to vote against Mr Straw because of the war in Iraq, added: "I had the good fortune to visit a mosque in Blackburn three years ago and I am grateful for the gracious hospitality shown to me there.
"I was heartened to hear of the Imam preaching tolerance and inclusiveness.
"It is crucial not to discount the good work of many community leaders in Blackburn and other parts of the United Kingdom.
"My statements were not meant in any way to discredit their work."