Iraq's president said Tuesday it would be "complete nonsense" to ask foreign troops to leave the country now, although some could depart by year's endreports Mariam Fam for the AP.
During a news conference, President Ghazi al-Yawer was asked whether the presence of foreign troops might be fueling the Sunni Arab revolt by encouraging rebel attacks.
"It's only complete nonsense to ask the troops to leave in this chaos and this vacuum of power," al-Yawer, a Sunni Arab, said.
He said foreign troops should leave only after Iraq's security forces are built up, the country's security situation has improved and some pockets of terrorists are eliminated.
"By the end of this year, we could see the number of foreign troops decreasing," al-Yawer said.
Al-Yawer had been a strong critic of some aspects of the U.S. military's performance in Iraq, including the three-week Marine siege of the Sunni rebel city of Fallujah in April.
Al-Yawer helped negotiate an end to that siege. But the city fell into the hands of insurgents and religious zealots, forcing the Marines to recapture Fallujah last November in some of the heaviest urban combat for American forces since the Vietnam war.
"There were some mistakes" in the occupation "but to be fair ... I think all in all it was positive, the contribution of the foreign forces in Iraq," al-Yawer said. "It was worth it."
Later Tuesday, Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan said Iraq would only ask U.S. and other forces to leave when the country's own troops were capable of taking on insurgents.
"We don't want to have foreign troops in our country, but at the same time we believe that these forces should stay for some time until we are able to control the borders and establish a new modern army and we have efficient intelligence," Shaalan told reporters. "At that time ... we'll ask them to leave."