By Caitlin Yilek
Updated on: March 16, 2023 / 2:48 PM
/ CBS News
A Gold Star promise kept
A Gold Star promise kept
Washington — The Senate advanced a bill Thursday that would repeal the legal justifications used to attack Iraq in 1991 and 2003, nearly 20 years to the day since the U.S. began its “shock and awe” campaign to topple dictator Saddam Hussein.
The bipartisan legislation would repeal the 2002 authorization for the use of military force, or AUMF, that Congress approved for the 2003 invasion, as well as the 1991 authorization for the first Gulf War. The bill, which has 12 Republicans among its 41 co-sponsors, easily advanced by a vote of 68 to 27, setting up a vote on final passage as soon as next week.
“The Iraq War has itself been long over. This AUMF outlived its purpose and we can no longer justify keeping it in effect,” Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor ahead of the vote.
Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia and Republican Sen. Todd Young of Indiana, the measure’s lead co-sponsors, first introduced their legislation in 2019 and it cleared the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2021. That same year, the House voted to repeal the 2002 authorization, but it was never voted on by the Senate. Efforts to include a repeal in the annual defense authorization bills have also failed.
“Leaving outdated authorizations on the books can lead to abuse,” Kaine told reporters after the vote. “The president should have to come to Congress to start wars.”
The White House said Thursday that President Biden supports repealing the authorizations and that doing so “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.” Opponents of repeal say it could limit U.S. counterterrorism efforts in the region and hamstring the ability to react quickly to national security threats.
Thursday’s procedural vote came almost two decades after the U.S. and its allies began aerial assaults against Iraqi targets on March 19, 2003. Ground troops began moving into Iraq the next day. The basis for the war was the Bush administration’s faulty assessment that the dictator had weapons of mass destruction. Allied forces toppled Hussein’s regime in a matter of weeks, but a series of missteps created a power vacuum that allowed a growing Iraqi insurgency to flourish. More than 4,400 U.S. troops and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians would die in the fighting.
Fires rage on the west bank of the Tigris river on March 21, 2003, in Baghdad, Iraq.
President Barack Obama formally ended the war in 2011 and ordered the withdrawal of U.S. troops, marking “a new phase in the relationship between the United States and Iraq.” Three years after Obama declared the war over, U.S. troops returned to fight the terrorist group ISIS, and the Obama administration cited the 2002 authorization as the legal justification for military operations against the militants.
The U.S. now considers Iraq a key partner in the region, especially given its proximity to and relationship with Iran.
“Sadly, according to these laws that are still on the books, Iraq is still technically an enemy of the United States. This inconsistency and inaccuracy should be corrected,” Young said in February. “Congress must do its job and take seriously the decision to not just commit America to war, but to affirmatively say that we are no longer at war.”
Then-President Donald Trump also used the 2002 authorization as the legal justification for an airstrike that killed Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad in 2020. Proponents of a repeal argued that the authorization gave no approval for military force against Iran and made conflict between the U.S. and Iran more likely.
The bill advanced by the Senate on Thursday does not repeal the 2001 authorization for use of force targeting those responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks, which still forms the legal basis for many U.S. counterterrorism efforts.
The White House indicated Thursday that the administration is open to replacing “outdated authorizations” with a “narrow and specific framework more appropriate to protecting Americans from modern terrorist threats.”
A bipartisan group of Reps. Barbara Lee, Chip Roy, Abigail Spanberger and Tom Cole also introduced a bill to repeal the Iraq authorizations in the House in early February, but it has not yet advanced out of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Rep. Michael McCaul, the committee’s Republican chairman, told CBS News in a statement that a “piecemeal repeal of those Iraq authorities is not a serious contribution to war powers reform.”
“Congress needs to own a comprehensive replacement [counterterrorism] AUMF in consultation with our military commanders and the intelligence community,” he said.
Kaine said Thursday he and Young believe a “big bipartisan vote” in the Senate will build momentum in getting the bill passed in the House.
“I’m hopeful Speaker [Kevin] McCarthy appreciates just what a broad spectrum of Republicans are supportive of this legislation,” Young added.
McCarthy’s office did not return a request for comment about whether the House plans to take up the legislation.
Jack Turman contributed reporting.
Caitlin Yilek is a politics reporter for CBS News Digital. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/hausofcait
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