The time to use an amnesty to separate Iraqi nationalist insurgents from jihadis using Iraq as the frontline in their pan-Islamic war against the west was two years ago. The US-selected provisional government of Iyad Allawi tried this - but it was vetoed by a Bush administration opposed to pardoning any insurgent with American blood on his hands. President George W. Bush, on return from his flying visit to Baghdad, indicated that has not changed.
That is an understandable but unsustainable attitude. It is time Washington acknowledged its grievous mistakes in Iraq. It broke the back of the state by disbanding the regular army and by blanket de-Ba'athification that drove the hitherto dominant Sunni Arab minority into armed opposition.
A broad-based but targeted amnesty to reunify Iraqis and isolate the extremists may be the last chance to save the country from breaking up into a series of warring states run by militias. An amnesty is indispensable, even if it may not be enough.
That is because the essential nature of the conflict has changed from a guerrilla war against the US-led occupation to a sectarian war between the winners and losers in the new order - which has at its heart the Sunni-Shia war fomented by Zarqawi. In this phase, it is just as important for the government to control Shia and Kurdish militias as to divide the insurgency.Separating nationalists from jihadis could not have been more critical. That was nearly a decade ago, and even then a few smart people said such a move should have been made two years prior to that. So here we are today watching the same extremists sweeping across Syria and Iraq like an invasion of fire ants.
I paid close attention to those early elections in Iraq. It was about that time that I became aware of Vali Nasr. I was so impressed I ordered his book. When I look back now at my notes it frustrates me to think that if I, an old guy blogging in retirement, could see what was unfolding, why did the people in charge not see what I saw?