Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Friday ordered pension payments for senior officers of Saddam Hussein's military and offered a return to service for lower-ranking soldiers, a major step aimed at defusing the Sunni insurgency and meeting US benchmarks for his government. In a statement, Al-Maliki's office said the decision was made during a Cabinet meeting late last month. It was not clear why the information was only released Friday. Many former top intelligence, security and military officials are believed to have joined the Sunni insurgency after former US administrator L. Paul Bremer disbanded Iraq's 350,000-member military on May 23, 2003, a month after the regime Saddam's regime was ousted. The al-Maliki statement said that any former officer above the rank of major would be given a pension equal to that of officers now retiring. Former officers above major who wanted to rejoin the army were encouraged to check with the military command to learn if they were acceptable in the Iraqi army that is being rebuilt by American forces. Those who had the rank of major or lower may voluntarily return to the army.