Senators take first step in repealing Iraq War authorization

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate took a first step Thursday toward repealing two measures that give open-ended approval for military action in Iraq, pushing to end that authority as the United States marks the 20th anniversary of the Iraq War.

Senators voted 68-27 to move forward on legislation that would repeal the 2002 measure that greenlighted that March 2003 invasion of Iraq and a 1991 measure that sanctioned the U.S.-led Gulf War to expel Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s forces from Kuwait. Nineteen Republicans joined Democrats in supporting the measure.

The bipartisan effort comes at a time when lawmakers of both parties are seeking to reclaim congressional powers over U.S. military strikes and deployments, arguing that the war authorizations are no longer necessary and subject to misuse if they are left on the books. President Joe Biden has backed the push, and the White House issued a statement Thursday in support.

“Repeal of these authorizations 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,” the White House said.

It’s unclear whether leaders in the Republican-controlled House would bring the bill up for a vote. Forty-nine House Republicans supported the legislation when then-majority Democrats held a vote two years ago, but current House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., opposed it.

Senate Republicans are also split on the legislation. While the 19 GOP senators voted for it, opponents argue that the repeal could project weakness to U.S. enemies. They have pointed out that President Donald Trump’s administration cited the 2002 Iraq war resolution as part of its legal justification for a 2020 U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassim Soleimani.

The October 2002 votes to give President George W. Bush broad authority for the invasion — coming just a month before the midterm elections that year — became a defining moment for many members of Congress as the country debated whether a military strike was warranted in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks against the United States.

Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat who was in the Senate at the time and voted against the resolution, said on the floor before Thursday’s vote that “I look back on it, as I’m sure others do, as one of the most important votes that I ever cast.”

“The repeal of this authorization of use the use of military force does not mean the United States has become a pacifist nation,” Durbin said. “It means that the United States is going to be a constitutional nation and the premise of our Founding Fathers will be respected.”

The Bush administration, seizing on the public’s rage over the terrorist strikes on U.S. soil, had drummed up support among members of Congress and Americans for invading Iraq by promoting false intelligence claims about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction. Iraq, it turned out, had played no part in the al-Qaida attacks.

After the initial March 2003 invasion of Iraq, American ground forces quickly discovered that the allegations of nuclear or chemical weapons programs were false. But the overthrow of Iraq’s security forces precipitated a brutal sectarian fight and violent campaigns by Islamic extremist groups in Iraq. Car bombings, assassinations, torture and kidnapping became a part of daily life in Iraq for years.

Nearly 5,000 U.S. troops were killed in the war. Iraqi deaths are estimated in the hundreds of thousands.

In the statement of policy, the White House said Biden would work with Congress to replace the authorizations with “a narrow and specific framework more appropriate to protecting Americans from modern terrorist threats.” It said the president want to ensure that Congress “has a clear and thorough understanding of the effect of any such action and of the threats facing U.S. forces, personnel, and interests around the world.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in the hours before the vote that he was glad that the repeal is a bipartisan effort after the Iraq conflict was the cause of “so much bitterness” in the past.

“Americans are tired of endless wars in the Middle East,” Schumer said.

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