BAQUBA, Iraq --
Dozens of Saddam Hussein's former generals and colonels are being paid hundreds of dollars a month by the Pentagon to advise US and Iraqi officials on how to contain the insurgency in northern Iraq.
First installed in Baquba by Colonel Dana Pittard three months ago, Saddam's generals are working as US consultants in a bid to ease violence in the provinces of Salahuddin, Tamim, Sulaimaniya and Diyala, the US military said.
Offering operational tips, thrashing out the finer points of security, benefits and equipment of Iraqi police and national guardsmen, many also use their connections with insurgents to encourage them to lay down their arms.
Packed into a conference room at the Diyala governorate in Baquba, 41 generals and colonels squeezed into every available seat at the first meeting in September to voice their ideas to beat crime with the provincial governor.
"I thank you because I now see people in the streets of Diyala are against terrorists," governor Abdullah al-Juburi told the panel, dressed uniformly in smart shirts and trousers.
Hugely respected in the community, several have links with anti-US insurgents operating throughout the province and their influence is thought to have curbed such attacks.
Those who turn up to two in a row of the twice-monthly meetings in Baquba, walk away with a 250 dollar pay check, said US Captain Patric Nichols.
"It's been worth it. In conjunction with our intelligence-based operations and with their possible connections, the insurgency has decreased... The military advisory committee is part of that equation," he added.
One member confessed that an insurgent had approached him only that morning, looking for a guarantee to lay down his arms. Another chipped in, adding that he knew five people looking for the same assurances.
The highlight of the session is the introduction of a new Iraqi national guard brigade commander, congratulated and welcomed by the committee -- many of whom had dismissed the fledgling security services as a tool of the US "occupation".
Attacks on US-led coalition forces in Diyala have dropped over the past two months and no American soldier has died in the province since June 24, although Iraqi police and national guardsmen have increasingly born the brunt of unrest.
Weighing in at the meeting, former major general Ayad Ibrahim Bawi Hamid al-Kaysi criticized the police as weak and offered to draw up a plan to improve their training.
Setting up the committee in May, a year after the former US-led occupation authority disbanded the army, Pittard believes Washington's de-Baathification efforts to rid Iraqi institutions of Saddam loyalists was a mistake.
Observers blamed the policy, in which tens of thousands of Iraqis lost their jobs, for exacerbating unemployment and the insurgency as experienced soldiers could no longer enforce security and others took revenge on US-led troops.
"I think we went way too far, so this was a way where they weren't working for the government so we hired them as consultants," said Pittard.
Although one fiercely anti-US air force general walked out of the first session in June, officers say the initial membership of 20 has doubled.
"It's pretty much taken until now to gain their trust, but I think we're there now," said Nichols.
Up to another 15 generals and colonels sit on a military sub-committee of a senior advisory council that meets twice a month with General John Battiste in Saddam's home province of Salahuddin, said spokesman Major Neal O'Brien.
Those who turn up, take home 100 dollars for each meeting, he added. A well-established network is also operational in Tamim province around the northern oil centre of Kirkuk and another in the adjacent Kurdish province of Sulaimaniya.
© 2004 Agence France Presse