BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraq's defense minister Wednesday invited some officers in Saddam Hussein's (search) disbanded army to enlist in the new force as the country tries to quell an insurgency fueled by disaffected former soldiers.
The U.S. decision to disband Saddam's 400,000-strong army soon after he was ousted in April 2003 has been widely seen as a major contributor to the growth of the insurgency.
The decision to invite former officers up to the rank of major back into the army was made by Defense Minister Saadoun al-Dulaimi, a Sunni Arab (search).
A ministry official said Wednesday those former officers wanting to re-enlist must report to recruiting centers Saturday and Dec. 15. They will be interviewed and undergo background checks before they can return to active service, the official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Saddam's army was dissolved by Iraq's former U.S. governor, L. Paul Bremer (search). That decision is widely considered a mistake because it drove many disaffected officers into the insurgency out of fear they had no future in the new Iraq.
The top ranks of the old army were dominated by Saddam's fellow Sunni Arabs. Some ex-officers are known to be helping insurgents with planning, tactics and instruction on explosives and weapons.
Tens of thousands of lower-ranking soldiers, mostly Shiites, later returned to duty when Iraq began rebuilding its army and police forces.
Iraq's police and army now number about 200,000, and Iraqi officials say they are two-thirds of the way toward their target number.
U.S. military officials say the Iraqis need at least 18 months before they could battle the insurgents and maintain law and order without help from the 160,000 American troops in Iraq.
President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, has said parliament soon would consider a proposal providing former Iraqi military personnel with pensions and other benefits. Sunni Arab politicians have long demanded such a law, arguing that the neglect of former army soldiers was spreading discontent and pushing them to join the insurgency.
Talabani, according to a press release posted Wednesday on the Iraqi presidency's Web site, said about 350,000 former service members could benefit from the new law.