Iraq's most revered Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has strongly objected to a 'security accord' between the US and Iraq.
The Grand Ayatollah has reiterated that he would not allow Iraq to sign such a deal with "the US occupiers" as long as he was alive, a source close to Ayatollah Sistani said.
The source added the Grand Ayatollah had voiced his strong objection to the deal during a meeting with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in the holy city of Najaf on Thursday.
The remarks were made amid reports that the Iraqi government might sign a long-term framework agreement with the United States, under which Washington would be allowed to set up permanent military bases in the country and US citizens would be granted immunity from legal prosecution in the country.
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While the mainstream media keep mum about the accord, critics say the agreement would virtually put Iraq under the US tutelage and violate the country's sovereignty.
The source added Ayatollah Sistani, however, backed PM al-Maliki's government and its efforts and that of the nation to establish security in the country.
The mandate of US troops in Iraq will expire in December 2008 and al-Maliki's government is under US pressure to sign 'a mutual security agreement' which would allow the long-term presence of US troops in Iraq.
Washington's plan has so far faced fierce protests by religious figures including Ayatollah Seyyed Kazem Haeri, another senior Shia cleric, and it is expected that other religious figures join the efforts to prevent the deal.
The US has signed similar agreements with countries like Japan and South Korea and thousands of US troops are now stationed in the countries.