Repeal of US war powers in Iraq likely to be approved by Biden, White House says

Bill shares US President's 'long-standing commitment to replacing outdated authorisations for the use of military force'

US soldiers fold the American flag while preparing to leave Scania military base in Hila, south of Baghdad, in 2010. EPA
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President Joe Biden's administration on Thursday signalled support for a bipartisan bill in the Senate that would repeal the authorisations for the wars in Iraq, two decades after the 2003 US-led invasion.

If passed, the bill would end two so-called Authorisations for Use of Military Force — one from the 1991 Gulf War and one passed in 2002 before the invasion.

Critics say the 2002 authorisation has been misused, as it has provided the legal underpinning for US military operations in several countries outside Iraq.

The White House Office of Management and Budget said the bill shares Mr Biden's “long-standing commitment to replacing outdated authorisations for the use of military force”.

The bill cleared a procedural hurdle on Thursday, when the Senate voted 68 to 27 to end debate over the legislation, clearing the way for amendments and a final vote next week.

The White House said the repeal of the two authorisations would have “no impact” on Washington's current military operations in Iraq, where the US maintains a troop presence as part of the anti-ISIS coalition.

“President Biden remains committed to working with the Congress to ensure that outdated authorisations for the use of military force are replaced with a narrow and specific framework more appropriate to protecting Americans from modern terrorist threats,” the statement read.

The 2002 authorisation was originally passed as then-president George W Bush administration’s prepared to invade Iraq based on what turned out to be faulty claims that Saddam Hussein’s regime was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction.

The bill to repeal the authorisation was brought to the Senate with strong bipartisan support as Washington quickly approaches the 20th anniversary of the invasion, which killed or injured hundreds of thousands of Iraqis while leaving about 4,500 US troops dead and tens of thousands more suffering physical and mental wounds.

The bill's sponsors pledged that passing the repeal would “enhance the relationship the United States now has with a sovereign, democratic Iraq”.

“Congress is responsible for both declaring wars and ending them because decisions as important as whether or not to send our troops into harm’s way warrant careful deliberation and consensus,” said Virginia Senator Tim Kaine.

“The 1991 and 2002 AUMFs are no longer necessary, serve no operational purpose, and run the risk of potential misuse. Congress owes it to our servicemembers, veterans and families to pass our bill repealing these outdated AUMFs and formally ending the Gulf and Iraq wars.”

The Senate bill mirrors legislation from the previous session of Congress. A House of Representatives bill led by Congresswoman Barbara Lee passed the House floor by a vote of 268 to 161, with dozens of Republicans voting in favour of repeal.

The last time Congress repealed such an authorisation was the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, the principal statutory authority for the Vietnam War.

Updated: March 16, 2023, 8:32 PM