Iraq’s most prominent Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has called on the country’s government to protect the Kurdish population in the north amid the conflict between Baghdad and Iraq’s secessionist Kurds.
According to Reuters, Sistani’s call was issued at the Friday prayer sermon in the city of Karbala by one of his representatives.
The top cleric called the presence of the Iraqi forces in Kirkuk a victory for all Iraqis, Iraq’s Alforat news agency reported.
He also warned against any retaliatory actions, calling on Kurdish leaders to cooperate with the federal government on the basis of Iraqi law.
Iraqi forces took control of the last district in the oil-rich province of Kirkuk earlier in the day. Prior to that, the district was controlled by Kurdish Peshmerga militants.
Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service units, Shia-dominated Popular Mobilization Unites and the Federal Police participated in the operation to recapture the area.
The Peshmerga militants withdrew after they were hit by advancing Iraqi troops with machineguns, mortars, and rocket propelled grenades, according to security sources.
Kurdish forces took control of parts of Iraqi territory in 2014, when ISIS terrorist group began an offensive across the country. The Kurds joined the fight against ISIS and began overrunning territory in the process.