Iraq's top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani has called on the Baghdad government to defend its territorial integrity by demonstrating “zero tolerance” against violations concerning national soverignity.
Sistani's spokesman Sheikh Abdul Mehdi Karbala'i, announced the statement from the cleric on Friday, but did not designate a country for the mentioned infringement.
"The Iraqi government is responsible for protecting Iraq's sovereignty and must not tolerate and side that infringes upon on it, whatever the justifications and necessities," The statement said, as read by Karbala’i during the Friday sermon, according to Reuters.
Sistani also emphasised that Iraq’s neighbours should not send any military units into the country on the grounds that they will fight against terrorism unless the Baghdad government asks for a military deployment.
Turkish Armed Forces last week deployed around 150 soldiers and 25 tanks to the town of Bashiqa, located in Iraq’s northern province of Mosul, to replace the troops that have reportedly been training Peshmerga forces in the region since March 2015.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al Abadi criticised the deployment, claiming that it had been carried out without Baghdad's approval and asked Turkish government to withdraw its troops from the region.
However, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkish soldiers will continue to stay in Iraq's Mosul because they have been stationed there for training purposes at the request of the Iraqi government.
“Our soldiers stationed [in Mosul] have not been stationed there as combat troops. They are there as trainees. Their task in the Bashika camp and another camp has currently been to train [Iraqi armed forces],” Erdogan said on Thursday evening.
In addition, Erdogan previously disclosed that Turkish soldiers have been in Iraq since 2014, upon the request of Abadi.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has said on Friday that Turkey’s deployment in Mosul has unnecessarily been exaggerated by third parties who are trying to provoke the incident.
Sistani also demanded from Iraqi citizens not to harm foreign nationals living in the country in his latest statement.
Iraqi Shiite paramilitary groups have threatened Turkey’s interests in the country, following the news of the Mosul deployment, according to media accounts.
Several Iraqi Shiite militias are being openly supported by Iran, which is the Shiite powerhouse of the Middle East. Iranian combat troops have also reportedly been deployed in the country, though their presence has repeatedly been denied by Iran.
Sistani was born in 1930 in eastern Iran and has completed most of his primary religious education there. He moved to Iraq in 1951 and became a Grand Ayatollah in 1992.
He has been recognised as the most prominent Shiite authority in the country, particularly after the overthrowing of Saddam Hussein's regime with the US occupation of the country in 2003.