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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Al-Yawer Calls for Troops to Stay

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- 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 end.

Officials began the second-stage counting from national elections to produce a government to confront the insurgency.

Despite scattered clashes in rebel areas across the country, Iraq reopened its borders Tuesday and commercial flights took off from Baghdad International Airport as authorities eased the security restrictions imposed to protect last weekend's elections.

In Baghdad, about 200 election workers Tuesday began the second -- and possibly final -- stage of the count. They reviewed tally sheets prepared by workers who counted ballots starting Sunday night at the 5,200 polling centers across the country and began crunching the numbers into 80 computer terminals. Officials said no figures were expected to be released Tuesday.

The Sunday ballot, which occurred without catastrophic rebel attacks, raised hopes that a new Iraqi government would be able to assume greater responsibility for security, hastening the day when the 170,000 U.S. and other foreign troops can go home.

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," said al-Yawer, a Sunni Arab.

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 U.S. 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."

In the latest violence, clashes broke out early Tuesday in eastern Mosul between insurgents and Iraqi National Guards, officials said. One person was killed and another injured. A roadside bomb killed four Iraqi National Guardsmen in the northwest of the city, Lieutenant Khalil Rashid said.

U.S. troops clashed with insurgents Tuesday near the main market in Qaim near the Syrian border, sending crowds fleeing, witnesses said. There was no report of casualties.