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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 February, 2005, 20:22 GMT
Iraq rules out US troop pullout
Iraqi President Ghazi Yawer
Yawer says it would be nonsense to ask coalition troops to leave now
Iraq's interim President Ghazi Yawer has rejected the withdrawal of foreign troops until Iraq's own forces are ready to take over security duties.

President Yawer said it was "complete nonsense" to ask coalition troops to leave Iraq in the midst of "this chaos" and "this vacuum of power".

But he also said the number of foreign troops could be reduced by year-end.

The president also highlighted problems with Sunday's election, saying tens of thousands of people were denied a vote.

Iraq's Independent Electoral Commission has begun the final count of votes, with the result not expected for several days.

The overall election turnout has been estimated at about 60% of registered voters, with some eight million Iraqis voting.

Results due in around 10 days
Early March: PM appointed
Late March: Government formed
15 August: Draft constitution (six month extension possible)
15 October: Possible referendum on constitution
By 15 December: Elections for government

Almost 94% of more than a million Iraqis living abroad who were registered to vote cast their ballot, said the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), which was appointed by Iraq's electoral commission.

It appeared higher numbers of Sunnis than expected turned out to vote.

But President Yawer said Mosul, Iraq's mainly Sunni third city, ran out of ballot papers twice and had to be supplied with more.

"Also, tens of thousands were unable to cast their votes because of the lack of ballots in Basra, Baghdad, and Najaf," he said.

The question now is how many Sunnis voted - and, regardless of the figure, whether they can be brought into the new government and the committee writing the new constitution, says the BBC's Paul Wood in Baghdad.

On Monday, interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi appealed for Iraqi citizens to unite.

Mr Allawi vowed to begin "a new national dialogue", saying Iraqis should set aside their differences.

Iraqi unity

Like President Yawer, Defence Minister Hazem Shaalan has moved to dampen any expectations of a quick withdrawal by American and British troops.

The US pulling out of Iraq involved great danger, he said.

"They will leave when security is stabilised and there is a strong army and police force."

Earlier, the Bush administration in Washington stressed that there was still much to do before Iraqi forces would be able to assume responsibility for security throughout the country.

President Yawer had also called for foreign militants to leave Iraq and take their holy war elsewhere.

But the latest statement from the al-Qaeda leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, said the elections would only increase their determination to defeat what he called "the evil of democracy".

The Iraqi government knows the militants are still here after the election, just as they were before, and the government still needs the coalition, our correspondent says.

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