The officers met in northern Bogota on 2 December with a Colombian colonel, who, on behalf of Halliburton Latin America, offered them monthly salaries of $7000 to provide security for oil workers and infrastructure in several Iraqi cities, according to one of the men, who spoke on condition of anonymity. 

"On Friday, 16 Colombians will leave for Iraq with one-year contracts, renewable for six months," the source said. "In addition to the salary of $7000, vacations in Europe every three months and life insurance were offered," he said. 

The information was confirmed by a Colombian government source, according to El Tiempo, but denied by a Halliburton spokesman in Bogota. 

Sale of armoured vehicles

El Tiempo also reported that a Colombian manufacturer of armoured vehicles had signed a contract to sell 50 of them to oil executives and top Iraqi officials. 

A spokesman for the company confirmed the sale, but refused to give the name of the firm for security reasons.

US news reports have said that civilians and retired soldiers from Chile, South Africa and Spain are being recruited to reinforce Iraqi security personnel. 

Halliburton, the oil services giant once run by US Vice-President Dick Cheney, has won billions of dollars in contracts to feed, house and care for US troops in Iraq, but has been accused of accounting problems and overcharging.