Senate advances a bill to repeal Iraq war authorizations

U.S. soldiers stand guard in Fallujah, May 2003. Congress will vote on whether to repeal the authorization for the use of military force orders passed in 1991 and in 2002 for two separate armed conflicts in Iraq. (Murad Sezer/Associated Press)

U.S. soldiers stand guard in Fallujah, May 2003. Congress will vote on whether to repeal the authorization for the use of military force orders passed in 1991 and in 2002 for two separate armed conflicts in Iraq. (Murad Sezer/Associated Press)

Updated March 16, 2023 at 3:55 PM ET

A bill ending Iraq war authorizations has cleared a procedural hurdle in the Senate and is expected to be taken up by the chamber for a final vote next week, coinciding with the 20th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

The legislation, sponsored by Sens. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Todd Young, R-Ind., would end two congressional resolutions that authorized the use of military force, also known as an AUMF, in Iraq: one from the Gulf War in 1991 and another from 2002. It passed the chamber on a 68-27 vote.

Their repeal would close an open-ended justification that presidents have used to carry out military actions in Iraq, allowing Congress to reassert its authority when it comes to where and when to send troops into battle.

“It is time for Congress to have its voice heard on these matters and and I believe this will establish a very important precedent moving forward,” Sen. Young said following Thursday’s vote, adding that he was proud of the bipartisan vote.

“It’s just representatives of the American people trying to do the right thing at the right time.”

In the days leading up to Thursday’s vote, lawmakers argued that the AUMFs authorizing force in Iraq were outdated.

“Congress has shirked its responsibility to our troops,” Illinois Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth said Wednesday. “For more than 20 years since passing these AUMFs, those in power have stretched and skewed their original intent.”

Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran, said she’s concerned “a future commander-in-chief may improperly interpret the law” and deploy military forces using these decades-old AUMFs as justification.

“Our troops deserve better than that. If we choose to send the finest among us into battle, then we need to debate and vote to do so based on current conditions,” she said.

While reduced in numbers, some 2,500 U.S. forces are still active in Iraq. NPR has learned that just last month the U.S. took part in nearly three dozen partnered raids with Iraqi counterterrorism forces against ISIS, and 200 raids last year.

The Senate bill would not repeal another AUMF issued in 2001 in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. That AUMF gives the president broad authority to use military force against “nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.”

In the aftermath of 9/11, the resolution was used to justify the U.S. war in Afghanistan. It also gives the president the authority to deploy military force to stop future terrorist acts against the U.S. If the bill to repeal the 1991 and 2002 AUMFs passes, senators have expressed interest in tackling the broad 2001 counter-terrorism AUMF and attempt to replace it to one with narrow authorization. Kaine and Young noted that repealing the two Iraq AUMFs wouldn’t affect current overseas operations because American troops combatting terrorist organizations overseas fall under the 2001 AUMF.

Supporters say the AUMFs don’t reflect the U.S.’ current relationship with the Iraqi government

“Today, Iraq is a partner of the United States and critical to efforts to counter Iran. Repealing these outdated AUMFs will demonstrate America’s commitment to Iraqi sovereignty,” Young said earlier this month.

Kaine speaking Thursday afternoon after the vote, echoed that message.

“There’s no reason — none — to have a war authorization against a strategic partner,” Kaine said.

If approved by the Senate, the resolution will go to the House for a vote, which, in 2021 passed a similar version of a bill to repeal the 2002 AUMF. President Biden backs the Senate effort.

“Americans are tired of endless wars,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said Wednesday.

“I said it before and I’ll say it again, every year we keep these AUMFs on the books is just another chance for future administrations to abuse or misuse them beyond their original intent,” he said.

The last time Congress used its constitutional authority to declare war was in 1942 during World War II. Since then, Congress has passed resolutions authorizing the use of military force for various actions, which were often preceded by a presidential request.

In 1991, at the request of President George H.W. Bush, Congress issued an AUMF against the government of Iraq after Iraqi President Saddam Hussein invaded the neighboring country of Kuwait, resulting in the Gulf War. Ten years later in 2001, President George W. Bush vowed to hunt down and hold accountable those responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks, launching America into the Global War on Terrorism campaign, fought mostly in Afghanistan. One year later, Congress issued another AUMF resolution, this time to take down Hussein for allegedly manufacturing weapons of mass destruction. That rationale was subsequently debunked and remains a towering falsehood that launched the war with Iraq in 2001.

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