WASHINGTON _ Rep. William D. Delahunt is making an urgent plea to fellow lawmakers: pay more attention to Iraq.
With most policymakers focused on the war in Afghanistan, Delahunt is warning that the continued inability of Iraqi leaders to form of new government risks a return to civil war -- just as the bulk of American troops are scheduled to withdraw later this summer.
"Ironically, it wasn't too long ago that Afghanistan was the forgotten war," Delahunt, who is not seeking re-election this year, said in an interview. "In the Congress, Iraq is not on the front burner and yet I think it has the potential to be far more significant than Afghanistan. Iraq is the linchpin to a stable Middle East."
So the Quincy Democrat, a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is hoping to enlist dozens of lawmakers to join him in an appeal to Iraqi leaders to swiftly establish a unity government.
A majority of Iraqi voters supported the two largest coalitions, the Sunni Musim bloc Iraqiya, led by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, and the Shia-backed State of Law party, headed by Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki. But neither coalition garnered enough votes in the March 7 election to form a government.
Despite several attempts at negotiation among the parties, the nation remains in political deadlock, without a permanent national government.
The impasse comes as the United States, under an agreement signed in 2008, is in the process of drawing down from a height of 160,000 troops to 50,000 combat forces by August.
While the security situation is vastly improved from the sectarian violence that pitted the majority Shia population against the Sunni minority several years ago, there remain daily attacks against government officials that some fear are part of a coordinated campaign by insurgents to destabilize the country in the midst of its political crisis.
On Tuesday, at least 13 people were killed in a series of assassinations and car bombings, including four policemen, an Iraqi general, and an official responsible for social welfare programs, according to the Associated Press.
Citizens also recently rioted in the mostly Shia city of Basra to demand more government services. And in the restive Sunni Muslim city of Fallujah, the scene of several American offensives after the 2003 invasion toppled Saddam Hussein, there has been an increase in insurgent activities, Iraqi officials have reported.
"There is a lot of unrest over there," said Delahunt.
The letter Delahunt is sending to Maliki, who has been serving as interim prime minister since the election, urges the Iraqi leader to create a national unity government with Allawi.
"The longer the government formation process takes, the more impatient and disillusioned the Iraqi people will become," the letter, which Delahunt is hoping will be signed by dozens of lawmakers, warns Maliki. "This is evident in the increasing demands -- which have already led to violence -- from the Iraqi people for a competent government that can provide basic services such as electricity."
"We believe that Iraq is at a turning point in its history; only a few nations have had the chance to break so cleanly with the past," the letter adds.
Delahunt said Alawi and other Iraqi leaders have expressed concerns that without a government with broad support the country could return to chaos, a development that would benefit neighboring Iran.
"If democracy is going to take hold they have to move expeditiously," he said. "The window is closing."
The stakes for the United States in the outcome cannot be overstated, he believes.
"We have invested a trillion dollars, thousands of American lives have been lost, and many more Iraqis have died in this war. Now is when the war will be won or lost."
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About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.