WASHINGTON — The US Senate voted Wednesday to advance bipartisan legislation that would scrap a pair of decades-old Iraq war authorizations that gave US presidents open-ended justification for the use of military force in Iraq.
The effort comes nearly 20 years after the United States launched its “shock and awe” invasion of Iraq to overthrow the country’s dictator, Saddam Hussein.
The bill would terminate both the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against Iraq and the 1991 authorization for the Gulf War. Supporters of repealing the AUMFs argued they had no longer had any operational use and would not impact ongoing operations in Iraq, where US forces are assisting Iraqi counterparts in their fight against the remnants of the Islamic State. Critics of repealing the AUMFs say doing so would send the wrong message to Iran and its proxies in Iraq.
The bill, which is sponsored by senators Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.), cleared the upper chamber by a vote of 68-27. Its final passage in the US Senate is expected next week.
Speaking from the Senate floor Thursday, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said repealing the AUMFs was a way for Congress to “claw back an outdated authority” and reassert its constitutional role to declare war.
“The Iraq of 2023 is far different than the Iraq of 2003,” Menendez said. “Today, Iraq is a critical strategic partner.”
Successive administrations have relied on the 2002 AUMF as a legal basis for military operations in Iraq. Former President Barack Obama cited the longstanding authorization when ordering airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and former President Donald Trump turned to the 2002 AUMF as partial justification for the drone strike in Iraq that killed Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani.
Shortly before the Senate vote Thursday, the White House announced President Joe Biden’s support for the AUMF repeals and said he would work with Congress to ensure the outdated authorizations are “replaced with a narrow and specific framework more appropriate to protecting Americans from modern terrorist threats.”
The measure is expected to get a final vote next week in the Senate but still requires passage in the Republican-controlled House before reaching Biden’s desk. It’s unclear whether House Speaker Kevin McCarthy will bring the legislation to the floor for a vote. The Democratic-controlled House voted two years ago to repeal the 2002 AUMF but the bipartisan measure did not get a vote in the full Senate.
A 2001 force authorization, which was passed in response to the Sept. 11 attacks, remains on the books. The AUMF was intended for operations against al-Qaeda and the Taliban but has been used to justify military operations in at least 19 countries, including against terrorist groups like the Islamic State that didn’t exist at the time Congress passed the authorization.