Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi (search) said Tuesday it was "futile" to set a timetable now for the withdrawal of U.S. and other foreign troops from Iraq and that the country must first build up its security forces to confront the insurgents.

"Others spoke about the immediate withdrawal or setting a timetable for the withdrawal of multinational forces," Allawi told reporters. "I will not deal with the security matter under political pretexts and exaggerations that do not serve Iraq and its people."

Allawi, who is running for the National Assembly in Sunday's national elections, promised to "build a strong Iraqi security force" that will be able to take responsibility for protecting the people.

"I will not set final dates" for the withdrawal of international forces "because setting final dates will be futile and dangerous," Allawi said.

There has been speculation that the new Iraqi government to be chosen after the weekend elections might ask the Americans to begin negotiations for their departure from the country — as demanded by Sunni Arab (search) insurgents as well as members of the Sunni clergy.

However, none of the major political figures contesting the election has publicly called for such a step. That includes the ticket supported by the Shiite clergy which are expected to fare best among the 111 candidate lists.

Allawi said the weekend elections would be the first step toward building an Iraq capable of functioning without the presence of foreign troops.

"Large parts of our country have good security and many of our forces are taking more responsibilities in the provinces," he said. "they are getting ready to take responsibility from multinational forces soon" in those areas.

He said that the Iraqis would be capable of taking control of Baghdad and major cities "when we reach a decisive point of a well-trained force."

"By reaching this point we will be able to start an essential decrease of multinational forces presence," he said. "At this point Iraqi forces will commanding security around the country."

He said the final step would be achieved when "we become confident of the effectiveness of Iraqi security focus and their capability to destroy terrorists bases in the country."

But he gave no indication when that point could be reached.