"It is the government's opinion that together with the end of the UN mandate for the stabilization mission, all the activity of the Polish stabilization mission should also end," said Poland's Defence Minister on Tuesday.

Jerzy Szmajdzinski said that after the resolution expired at the end of the year, it would take "a few weeks" for all the troops and equipment to return to Poland.

However, he said the Polish mission could be extended if the UN Security Council voted for a new mandate for the next year or if the Iraqi government asked Poland to keep its troops in the country.

While Polish officials have indicated their forces would leave after the resolution expires, Szmajdzinski's remarks were the most definite about when that might happen.

Szmajdzinski said his statement reflected the position of the Polish Cabinet, and would need to be confirmed by President Aleksander Kwasniewski.

Poland commands a multinational force of about 4700 troops in three provinces in central Iraq. Poland itself has 1700 troops in Iraq, a presence that is unpopular in Poland.