Congress passed laws after 9/11 giving US presidents power to OK military force, but calls are growing to change that.
The United States House of Representatives will vote later this week to repeal the authorisation of war that Congress gave to former President George W Bush in 2002 enabling the US invasion and occupation of Iraq.
The motion to repeal the Authorization of Use of Military Force (AUMF) in Iraq, coming for the first time with support from President Joe Biden, is expected to be taken up in the House on Thursday, CNN reported.
The Biden administration said on Monday that the US “has no ongoing military activities that rely solely on the 2002 AUMF as a domestic legal basis” and its repeal “would likely have minimal impact on current military operations”.
But the upcoming vote is seen as a start in a larger debate in the US Congress about revising and re-establishing the US legal basis for the deployment of military forces in Iraq and elsewhere in what congressional critics call the “forever wars”.
“The President is committed to working with the Congress to ensure that outdated authorizations for the use of military force are replaced with a narrow and specific framework appropriate to ensure that we can continue to protect Americans from terrorist threats,” the White House said in a statement on Monday supporting the House repeal.
However, without a replacement authorisation that addresses modern-day circumstances in Iraq, repeal of the US law faces scepticism from legislators in the Senate, which also must agree for the House resolution to take effect.
“The 2002 AUMF was largely about Saddam Hussein, it is also clearly used to address terrorist threats in and emanating from Iraq,” said Representative Michael McCaul.
“Unless we hear from our military that the 2002 AUMF no longer serves the purpose of protecting Americans, we should not repeal before replacing,” said McCaul, a Republican.
The issue came to the fore most recently with the assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani by US forces on Iraqi soil, an act many members of Congress viewed as unjustified and reckless. The Trump administration later cited the 2002 Iraq war authorisation as legal justification for the Soleimani hit.
US and NATO troops invaded Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001 al-Qaeda attacks and the former Bush administration then pushed for and obtained authorisation from Congress to invade Iraq in a preemptive war to topple Saddam Hussein and prevent Iraq from obtaining weapons of mass destruction.
The Bush administration’s pretext for invading Iraq was later shown to be based on false claims and former President Barack Obama agreed to withdraw most US forces from Iraq in 2011.
Some US forces remain in Iraq following US-led campaigns to push back the ISIL (ISIS) group (ISIS) and contain the civil war in Syria. US forces have continued to clash with Iranian-backed militias in Iraq.
“There are Iran sponsored terrorist groups active today inside Iraq who threaten our diplomats, our soldiers and our citizens,” McCaul said.
Defense Department lawyers in the prior Trump administration had strongly opposed a stand-alone repeal of the 2002 Iraq AUMF because it would remove the authority for US military action against the militia groups.
Nevertheless, there is broad support among Democrats in Congress repeal of the 2002 authorisation of war in Iraq, as well as an earlier 2001 authorisation Congress passed related to al-Qaeda and Afghanistan.
Biden has put in motion plans to withdraw US and allied foreign troops from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021, the 20th anniversary of the al-Qaeda attacks.
Across the years, both the 2001 and 2002 AMUFs have been used by successive presidents to justify a range of military actions, including drone attacks in Yemen, that in some cases have little to do with the original conflicts Congress sought to address.
“The idea that they have not been repealed or ended just doesn’t make any sense,” said Representative Jim McGovern, a leading Democrat.
“It’s either that we just haven’t done our due diligence, or we are not keeping a close watch on these things,” McGovern said on Monday.