The spiritual leader of Iraq's Shi'ites called on Iraqi forces battling to retake the city of Fallujah from Islamic State militants to protect civilians trapped there.
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani said that "saving innocent people from harm's way is the most important thing, even more so than targeting the enemy."
His comments were delivered at Friday prayers on May 27 by his representative Ahmed al-Safi in the holy city of Karbala.
Rights groups have expressed concern about the tens of thousands of civilians estimated to still be in Fallujah, which has been in IS hands for more than two years.
IS has prevented the civilians who remain there from escaping the city, which has been under heavy bombardment from Iraqi and coalition forces since they launched an offensive to retake it on May 23.
Since December, IS has cut off routes out of the city, according to the United Nations, creating a shortage of food and medicines and forcing families to use unsafe water sources.
Based on reporting by AP and dpa