Senate votes to rescind Iraq war permits

The Senate on Wednesday voted to revoke two presidential authorizations for the use of military force in Iraq, after bipartisan attempts to regain war power two decades after the nation’s last US invasion.

By a vote of 66 to 30, the chamber approved the measure to remove the 1991 and 2002 permits that paved the way for the Gulf War under President George HW Bush and the 2003 invasion of Iraq under his son.

Legislation now goes to the House of Representatives, where an outright repeal with no updated agencies to replace the 2002 AUMF is likely to face opposition from key lawmakers.

The bill’s co-sponsors, Sens. Todd Young, Indiana Republican, and Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia, hailed the passage as an important step in reaffirming Congress’s wartime powers.

“Passing this bill with strong bipartisan support brings us one step closer to restoring Congress’s proper role in authorizing military force and affirmatively determining when conflict is over,” Mr. Young said.

The push to rescind the outdated permits has become an ongoing battle on Capitol Hill. Rep. Barbara Lee, a California Democrat and the only member of Congress to vote against the 2001 AUMF authorizing the US invasion of Afghanistan, has for years led efforts in the House of Representatives to regain congressional authority over warfare.

The Democrat-led House of Representatives overturned the 2002 AUMF by a vote of 268 to 161 in June 2021, but that push failed to acquit the Senate.

Those supporting the repeal said the 1991 and 2002 AUMFs long outlived their purpose, leaving the nation’s military might vulnerable to executive encroachment.

“The United States, Iraq, and the entire world have changed dramatically since 2002, and it is time for the legislature to catch up with those changes,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, a Democrat of New York, said on Wednesday in the Senate. “These AUMFs have survived their use.”

But last week’s attacks on US troops by Iranian-backed militias in Syria have highlighted a key concern among those opposed to a total abrogation of the 2002 AUMF without a replacement. Critics say that without the war warrant, the supreme commander’s hands would be tied to respond to ongoing threats from Iran-backed militias in the region and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Around 900 US service members and hundreds of Pentagon contractors are stationed in Syria. Last week, an alleged Iranian-made drone was used in an attack that killed an American contractor and wounded several troops based in the country. This attack sparked a series of rebellion attacks between the US and Iranian-backed groups and fueled fears of an escalating conflict.

“Iraq has come under extremely strong influence and manipulation by Iran. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has spent years establishing political parties, militias and terrorist proxies in Iraq whose primary allegiance is Tehran,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said Tuesday. “Our enemies in Iran, who have spent two decades targeting and killing Americans in the Middle East, would be happy if America scaled back our military presence, authorities and activities in Iraq.”

He added: “Tehran wants to drive us out of Iraq and Syria. Why would Congress make this easier?”

President Biden warned last week that he was ready to “act forcefully” to protect US citizens from attacks in Syria, stressing that he does not seek a widening US-Iran clash.

“Make no mistake, the United States does not seek conflict with Iran,” Biden said. “But be prepared that we will act vigorously to protect our people. That happened last night.”

Mr. Biden has previously voiced his support for appealing the permits, arguing they are outdated.

The government has also departed from previous governments’ tendency to base operations in the region on the 2002 AUMF, citing Article 2 of the Constitution for airstrikes in 2022 on Iran-backed militia fighters in Iraq and Syria.

In his letters to Congress last week setting out his authorization for the recent strikes in Syria, Mr. Biden refrained from citing the 2002 AUMF as the legal basis.

Still, Republicans have slammed Mr. Biden in the wake of the latest attack, noting a spike in attacks on US forces by Iran-backed groups and accusing the president of failing to meet the attacks with sufficient aggression.

“After a small initial response from the Biden administration, Iran launched more attacks over the weekend aimed at killing more Americans,” McConnell said. “Our President’s response to this escalation seems to have been to withdraw his blows and let Tehran have the last word.”

Mr McConnell said the attacks should serve as a wake-up call for lawmakers.

“While the Senate has engaged in this abstract, theoretical debate about rolling back American power, Iran has continued its deadly attacks on us,” he said. “Some in America may think our war on terrorism is going down, but the terrorists clearly don’t agree.”

House Republicans, meanwhile, have signaled that Senate repeal won’t get a stamp in the lower house, saying they will work to modernize the president’s wartime powers rather than repeal them entirely.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael T. McCaul, a Texas Republican, said last week he wants to update the AUMF.

“Congress must have a full backup AUMF in consultation with our military commanders and intelligence agencies,” McCaul told the Washington Times. “The phasing out of these Iraqi authorities is not a serious contribution to war power reform.”

• Susan Ferrechio contributed to this story.

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