Congress is inching closer toward repealing two Iraq war authorizations decades after their enactment, with bipartisan support emerging to reassert congressional authority, protect against a potential misuse of military force and send a message of support to Iraq, now a strategic U.S. ally.
The Senate is considering legislation to repeal Authorizations for the Use of Military Force (AUMFs) for the 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq after a strong 68-27 bipartisan procedural vote on March 16 to advance the bill.
And House Republicans appear ready for a debate on the Iraq war authorizations, should similar legislation move to the floor in the lower chamber.
Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) signaled his support for repealing authorizations for both wars, saying he was “into it.”
“I don’t have a problem with that,” McCarthy said at a Republican retreat in Orlando, Fla., last week. “I was not here to vote on either of the creation of those, but you’re 20 years into this now.”
McCarthy emphasized he would not support a repeal of another AUMF passed in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack to fight against global terrorism, which has been used to authorize a number of military actions across the world. The 2001 AUMF is not included in the House or Senate legislation.
The House Speaker is not the only Republican signaling support for the Iraq war repeals in the GOP-controlled House. Both Tom Cole (R-Okla.) and Chip Roy (R-Texas) are co-sponsors of the House legislation introduced this year to repeal the Iraq war AUMFs.
Rep. Jack Bergman (R-Mich.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said he was seeing “positive” signals in the GOP conference for a discussion on the legislation.
“I believe it’s time for us to have the debate both in the House and Senate,” Bergman told The Hill. “Because you can have a debate, and then you could look at it and say, ‘Well, we’re not going to repeal it, but maybe we’re going to do something different.’
“You consider what kind of powers the president should have,” Bergman added, “which could mean repealing it.”
The 1991 Gulf War, supported by an AUMF passed that same year, involved a brief campaign as U.S. forces quickly and successfully repelled an Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
An AUMF passed in 2002 supported an invasion of Iraq the following year.
Former President George W. Bush ordered military force after making the case Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was hosting weapons of mass destruction and had supported Al-Qaeda. A United Nations task force later failed to find nuclear weapons in Iraq and no evidence ever emerged of Hussein’s ties with the terrorist group.
Hussein was ousted from power within two months after U.S. forces captured the capital of Baghdad. Bush quickly declared victory and said the major campaign was over.
U.S. troops remained in the country until 2011, when former President Obama pulled them out after years of fighting insurgent groups. American forces returned a few years later, at the request of the Iraqi government, with some 2,500 troops remaining there today.
Congress has tried for several years to repeal the AUMFs. This year’s effort comes as the 20th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq passed on Monday, a day that was marked by the solemn remembrance of one of America’s most unpopular wars.
Khury Petersen-Smith, a Middle East fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), a progressive think tank, said consideration of the repeals during the 20th anniversary of the war was fueling discourse and potentially setting the U.S. on the path to passage.
“The fact that is the context in which this vote is coming up lends itself to passing,” he said. “I think there is a very limited, but no less important, reflection on the 2003 invasion of Iraq that is if not critical, then a bit regretful.”
However, there remains some opposition to repealing the authorizations over concerns it would create a vacuum and give rise to U.S.-designated terrorist groups such as ISIS.
While a repeal would not force American soldiers to withdraw from Iraq, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said on the Senate floor last week the U.S. needs the authorizations “to make sure ISIS doesn’t come back.”
“When they had a foothold in Iraq and Syria … all hell broke loose,” Graham said. “In 2023, Americans are serving in Iraq, and we owe it to them to make sure we can use whatever military force necessary to protect them.”
Petersen-Smith from IPS said there may also be opposition to repealing the wars because the 1991, 2001 and 2002 AUMFs have institutionalized open-ended wars.
He also argued that opponents may see a repeal of the Iraq AUMFs as “acknowledging the U.S. is guilty of horrendous human rights abuses.”
Leading the effort to repeal the AUMFs on Capitol Hill are Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.), who have repeatedly warned that a sitting president can technically misuse the war authorizations if they remain on the books. Former President Trump justified a 2020 strike on Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad by citing the 2002 Iraq war AUMF.
The senators have also pushed for the AUMF repeals to relay a symbolic show of support to Iraq — a key partner for the U.S. in the Middle East — and to send a message to foreign adversaries that Washington can turn enemies into friends.
For veterans of the Iraq war, repealing the AUMFs would also serve as closure. The U.S. invasion cost the lives of more than 4,000 American troops.
Several organizations representing veterans and servicemembers have expressed clear support for the legislation, including the American Legion.
Sarah Streyder, the executive director of the Secure Families Initiative, a nonpartisan group that represents military spouses, family members and veterans, said she “strongly supports repealing the dangerous, outdated Iraq war authorizations.”
“Occasions like the recent 20th anniversary of the Iraq war are solemn reminders that we need so much more than casual platitudes from our non-military neighbors — we need tangible policy action,” Streyder said in a statement. “We need voters and policymakers to show that they’ve learned from the mistakes of the last 20 years to avoid suffering the same loss and sacrifice in the next 20.”
Veterans of the Iraq war who are now in Congress could be among those who move the legislation forward. In his comments last week, McCarthy said lawmakers who served deserved a chance to weigh in on the AUMFs.
Rep. Cory Mills (R-Fla.), an Army veteran who served for seven years in Iraq and was injured twice by explosive devices, said the AUMFs were “being purposely misused for what was not their intended purpose.”
“It is also a direct abdication of our roles and responsibilities,” Mills said, referring to Congress. “I can tell you right now that I’ll be happy” upon repeal.
Meanwhile, the Senate considered and proposed several amendments to the legislation.
Speaking on the Senate floor on Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said a final vote could come early this week and passage was a “matter of when, not if.”
“Americans want to see an end to endless Middle East wars,” Schumer said. “Passing this [bill] is a necessary step to putting these bitter conflicts squarely behind us.”