Washington — The Senate will hold a key procedural vote Thursday on a measure that would repeal the legal justifications used to attack Iraq in 1991 and 2003, nearly 20 years to the day since the U.S. began its “shock and awe” campaign to topple dictator Saddam Hussein.
The bipartisan legislation would repeal the 2002 authorization for the use of military force, or AUMF, that Congress passed to allow the 2003 invasion, as well as the 1991 authorization approving the first Gulf War. The bill, which has 12 Republican co-sponsors, is expected to easily garner the 60 votes needed to advance.
“The 1991 and 2002 AUMFs are no longer necessary, serve no operational purpose, and run the risk of potential misuse,” Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, who co-sponsored the Senate version of the bill alongside Republican Sen. Todd Young of Indiana, said when introducing the measure in February.
Kaine and Young first introduced their legislation in 2019 and it cleared the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2021. That same year, the House voted to repeal the 2002 authorization, but it was never voted on by the Senate. Efforts to include a repeal in the annual defense authorization bills have also failed.
The White House said Thursday that President Biden supports repealing the authorizations and that doing so “would have no impact on current U.S. military operations and would support this Administration’s commitment to a strong and comprehensive relationship with our Iraqi partners.” Opponents of repeal say it could limit U.S. counterterrorism efforts in the region and hamstring the ability to react quickly to national security threats.
Thursday’s procedural vote comes almost two decades after the U.S. and its allies began aerial assaults against Iraqi targets on March 19, 2003. Ground troops began moving into Iraq the next day. The basis for the war was the Bush administration’s faulty assessment that the dictator had weapons of mass destruction. Allied forces toppled Hussein’s regime in a matter of weeks, but a series of missteps created a power vacuum that allowed a growing Iraqi insurgency to flourish. More than 4,400 U.S. troops and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians would die in the fighting.
President Barack Obama formally ended the war in 2011 and ordered the withdrawal of U.S. troops, marking “a new phase in the relationship between the United States and Iraq.” Three years after Obama declared the war over, U.S. troops returned to fight the terrorist group ISIS, and the Obama administration cited the 2002 authorization as the legal justification for military operations against the militants.
The U.S. now considers Iraq a key partner in the region, especially given its proximity to and relationship with Iran.
“Sadly, according to these laws that are still on the books, Iraq is still technically an enemy of the United States. This inconsistency and inaccuracy should be corrected,” Young said in February. “Congress must do its job and take seriously the decision to not just commit America to war, but to affirmatively say that we are no longer at war.”
Then-President Donald Trump also used the 2002 authorization as the legal justification for an airstrike that killed Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad in 2020. Proponents of a repeal argued that the authorization gave no approval for military force against Iran and made conflict between the U.S. and Iran more likely.
The bill being considered by the Senate on Thursday would not repeal the 2001 authorization for use of force targeting those responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks. That authorization still forms the legal basis for many U.S. counterterrorism efforts.
The White House indicated Thursday that the administration is open to replacing “outdated authorizations” with a “narrow and specific framework more appropriate to protecting Americans from modern terrorist threats.”
A bipartisan group of Reps. Barbara Lee, Chip Roy, Abigail Spanberger and Tom Cole also introduced a bill to repeal the Iraq authorizations in the House in early February, but it has not yet advanced out of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Rep. Michael McCaul, the committee’s Republican chairman, told CBS News in a statement that a “piecemeal repeal of those Iraq authorities is not a serious contribution to war powers reform.”
“Congress needs to own a comprehensive replacement [counterterrorism] AUMF in consultation with our military commanders and the intelligence community,” he said.