In an interview on CNN's Late Edition, Muafaq al-Rubai said: "I will be very surprised if they [US and other foreign troops] don't think very seriously of starting [to] pull out probably by the end of the first half of next year."

When pressed on exact numbers expected to leave, al-Rubai said this depended on how quickly Iraqi troops could be trained and armed to take over.

Twenty-five months after the invasion of Iraq, the United States has 138,000 troops in the country battling a relentless rebellion and training Iraqi security forces.

The United States has not given a timetable for withdrawing its troops and President George Bush has repeatedly said US soldiers will leave only when their job is finished and Iraqi forces can take over.

Last week, General Richard Myers said Iraqi fighters were attacking 50 or 60 times a day in Iraq - about the same as a year ago. On Sunday, a bomber killed 15 people at a funeral procession in the northern Iraqi town of Tal Afar.

Civilian casualties

Al-Rubai said the new Iraqi government was determined to quell violence in Iraq by the end of 2005.

Iraq has been wracked by anti-US
violence since the 2003 invasion

"I think we are winning - on the winning course, there is no doubt about it. The level of violence is not measured only by the number of explosions every day, or the number of casualties," he said.

He added: "There is no shadow of doubt in my mind, that by the end of the year, we would have achieved a lot, and probably the back of the insurgency has already been broken."

According to the independent website Iraq Body Count, between 21,000 and 24,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed as a result of fighting since the start of the war.

Meanwhile, at least 1586 members of the US military have died during the same period
, according to the independent Iraq Coalition Casualty Count website quoting Pentagon figures.

At least 1199 died as a result of hostile action, according to the US Defence Department.