US Senate passes repeal of authorisations used for Gulf and Iraq wars

The measure will now go to the House of Representatives for final vote

US Marines chain the head of a statue of Saddam Hussein before pulling it down in Baghdad's Al Fardous square on April 9, 2003. AFP
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The US Senate has passed a measure that repeals the Congressional authorisations used for the Gulf and Iraq wars, a major step in officially rescinding those war powers.

The measure to rescind the 1991 and 2002 Authorisations of Use of Military Force passed the Democratic majority Senate in a 66-30 vote, just days after the world marked the 20th anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

“These AUMFs have outlived their use,” Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor on Wednesday.

“Every year we keep these AUMFs on the books is another chance for a future administration to abuse the war powers that belong in the hands of Congress. And so we have an obligation to prevent future presidents from exploiting these AUMFs to bumble us into a new Middle East conflict.”

Critics say the 2002 powers have been misused, including former president Donald Trump's citing that authorisation to justify the 2020 killing of senior Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani.

A US strike killed Soleimani while he was in Iraq, but the 2002 AUMF does not authorise military action against Iran.

Under the US Constitution, Congress, and not the president, has the right to declare war.

The repeal did not go without significant opposition in the Senate, most notably Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who released a statement on Tuesday declaring his opposition to the repeal.

“Our terrorist enemies aren’t sunsetting their war against us … While the Senate’s been engaged in this abstract, theoretical debate about rolling back American power, Iran has continued its deadly attacks on us,” Mr McConnell said.

The Minority leader referenced a recent escalation between Washington and Tehran after a drone strike by an Iranian-backed militia killed an American contractor in north-eastern Syria. Repeal of the 2002 AUMF will not impact the current US mission there.

The bill will now go to the Republican-controlled House of Representatives for debate, markups and a final vote.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has indicated that he is supportive of the repeal, so long as it does not impact the standing 2001 AUMF, which is used to authorise current US military operations.

But there is some scepticism about the 1991 and 2002 repeal on the House side.

Rep Mike McCaul, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told The National that Washington needs to shape a “comprehensive replacement AUMF in consultation with our military commanders and the intelligence community.”

“Piecemeal repeal of those Iraq authorities is not a serious contribution to war powers reform,” Mr McCaul added.

US President Joe Biden has already signalled that he would sign the repeal into law if the House of Representatives approves it.

Updated: March 29, 2023, 5:42 PM