Iraq's new interim prime minister, Iyad Allawi, urged Iraqis on Friday to accept the presence of U.S. and other foreign troops in the country, saying their withdrawal now would be a major disaster.
Mr. Allawi acknowledged that his government's plan to keep international troops, including 138,000 U.S. troops, in Iraq after the transfer of sovereignty on June 30 would cause deep resentment among some Iraqis.
However, he warned that a troop pullout in the midst of widespread insecurity would cause enormous harm to the country.
Mr. Allawi said that forcing U.S.-led coalition troops to leave Iraq now would be a major disaster, because the Iraqi police and military are not yet ready to take on full security responsibilities.
The speech, which aired on the U.S.-funded station Al-Iraqiyah, comes a day after Iraq's foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, appeared before the United Nations Security Council in New York to demand greater Iraqi control over occupational forces.
Mr. Allawi, a secular Shi?ite Muslim Governing Council member, was unanimously chosen last Friday by his fellow council members to lead the country's interim government, until elections can be held in January.
The nomination of Mr. Allawi is not widely accepted by Iraqis. This is because the U.S.-appointed Governing Council named him and he is known to have close political ties to the United States and Britain.
But the prime minister and his 32-member interim Cabinet on Thursday received a cautious, but crucial endorsement from the highest religious cleric for the country's Shi?ite majority, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
Mr. Allawi, however, still faces stiff opposition from another Shi?ite cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr, whose militia has fought fierce battles with U.S. troops in and around the holy city of Najaf for nearly two months.
In the Baghdad slum of Sadr City, where the fiercely anti-coalition cleric is enjoying growing support, a local Shi?ite preacher, allied with Mr. Sadr, urged followers on Friday to reject the new government.
Cleric Abass al-Musawi accused the interim government of being nothing more than a mouthpiece of the occupiers. He said that Iraqis should not accept any government that is not elected.
Even as Moqtada al-Sadr and his followers showed their defiance in mosques, the cleric agreed Friday to renew a shaky truce with American forces.
Shi?ite politicians negotiating a cease-fire in Najaf say that Mr. Sadr has agreed to withdraw his fighters from the city in two days, as long as U.S. troops also withdraw.
A cease-fire negotiated last week failed to take hold and heavy fighting between the two sides has continued unabated.