Iraq’s ruling coalition and their American patrons are finally showing some realism. The latest sign was last week’s plea to mostly Sunni Arab junior officers of Saddam Hussein’s disbanded military to enlist in Iraq’s new national army. It was a historically stunning move, but one Baghdad had to make if there is to be any hope of making the Iraqi Army strong. With the country so divided and the insurgency so powerful, it will be hard to make sure that former officers who have gone over to the insurgents do not infiltrate the new army. But it still makes good sense to try it out.

Another costly legacy of the occupation was spelled out last week by the US special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction. In a report to Congress, he showed how poor project coordination and monitoring, contracting abuses and security costs had allowed a substantial part of the $30 billion spent on American-financed reconstruction programmes to dribble away without producing visible improvements in Iraqi life. These failures are inexcusable, but the truth is, no broad-gauge reconstruction can happen without significant gains in security.

We can only hope that the encouraging shift runs deep enough and lasts long enough to divert Iraq from imminent civil war toward constructive, democratic nation-building.