Iraq's Sadr urges supporters to protest outside Turkish embassy
Prominent Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has urged his supporters to gather outside the Turkish embassy in Baghdad to protest the deployment of Turkish troops in northern Iraq.
"Turkey and its likes should not turn Iraq into an arena to settle scores," he said in a televised speech on Monday.
"We support the liberation of Mosul by the army and the fighters backing it."
Describing Turkish presence in Mosul as an "occupation of Iraq", Sadr also called his supporters to make their voices heard without assaulting the embassy in order to liberate Mosul from "terrorists" and the Turkish troops who "have no respect" for Iraqi territories and sovereignty.
The build-up for the US-backed Iraqi offensive to retake Mosul from the Islamic State (IS) group, which has held Iraq's second city since June 2014, was marked by a bitter squabble between Ankara and Baghdad over the planning.
Earlier on Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan indicated that Turkey would play a role in the Mosul battle, saying it was "unthinkable" that Ankara would stay on the sidelines.
"We will be in the operation and we will be at the table," Erdogan said in a televised speech.
"Our brothers are there and our relatives are there. It is out of the question that we are not involved."
Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the start of the military operation to dislodge IS from the city where its self-proclaimed "caliphate" was declared two years ago late on Sunday.
"Today I declare the start of these victorious operations to free you from the violence and terrorism of Daesh," Abadi said, using an Arabic acronym for IS.
Iraqi forces have been closing in on Mosul in recent weeks but the battle launched early on Monday is expected to be the toughest yet in the fight against IS.
Some 30,000 federal forces including Kurdish Peshmerga forces, Iraqi special forces and Sunni tribal fighters are leading the offensive, backed by a 60-nation US-led coalition.