Last winter, Rep. Bill Delahunt decided he wanted more information from the Bush administration about long-term U.S.-Iraqi security negotiations. He was troubled by the November "declaration of principles" signed by the president and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, which intended to do away with past UN-sponsored status of forces agreements, normally renewed on a yearly basis.
Delahunt wondered: Would this pave the way for an open-ended U.S. military presence in the country? And, if so, would the administration be coming to Congress to secure approval for such a measure?
The Massachusetts Democrat began holding a series of hearings intended to press the administration into greater clarity. Eventually, Ambassador David Satterfield and Assistant Secretary of Defense on International Security Affairs Mary Beth Long accepted one of Delahunt's invitations and told him the administration did not intend to seek the Congress' blessing before finalizing the next security agreement with the Maliki government.
At which point, Delahunt lit on idea. Why not go around Bush and Maliki and talk directly to the members of Iraq's parliament? After all, just as Delahunt thought the U.S. Congress ought to vet the next security agreement -- especially if it contained the authorization for troops to fight -- he realized Iraq's parliament should have a role to play as well.
According to an aide to Delahunt, it was simply a matter of reciprocity. "It would be the ultimate irony about standing up for democracy in Iraq if we were to wind up coaching the Iraqi executive on how to skirt its own parliament," the adviser told the Huffington Post.
The Congressman already had already made some contacts with Iraqi legislators. He had helped facilitate a visit by two lawmakers to Washington DC in early June. Days after that visit, Delahunt's press office put out a letter from a majority of Iraqi legislators who said they would oppose any long-term security deal that did not include a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. forces.
So Delahunt went back to the well one more time, writing a letter to the speaker of Iraq's Parliament in which he asked whether the signing of any long-term security agreement before ratification of the country's international treaties law might run counter to Article 61 of the Iraqi constitution.
In addition to being a helpful jurisprudential nudge, Delahunt's letter was an extraordinarily wonky way to attempt to grab the ball back from Bush and Maliki, who tend to dominate all talk of the security agreement and its negotiation. And judging from the reception Delahunt's letter to Speaker Mahmud al-Mashhadani has received thus far in the Arabic press, his interpretation of the Iraqi constitution is gaining some traction. Papers in Jordan and Lebanon have picked up the story, as well as several Iraqi news outlets.
Soon after it was delivered, Jordan's Ad Dustour reported that Delahunt's letter seemed to have an impact on the Speaker himself:
"Knowledgeable sources cited Al-Mashhadani as saying that it is impossible to ratify the security agreement which the Bush government insists on ratifying by the end of next July. The same sources said that Al-Mashhadani's response will confirm that the Iraqi Parliament has yet to look into the suggestion of endorsing the international treaty's ratification law which is listed on its agenda and which might need more than two months to be considered if the parliament were to convene."
President Bush is reported to have wanted a signed agreement by July in order to boost Sen. John McCain's presidential bid. If he is to succeed, it now seems he will need to push past the objections of not one, but two legislatures.