US Senate poised to vote on repeal of Iraq war powers | US Senate

The US Senate was poised to vote on Wednesday to repeal the 2002 measure that greenlit the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, a move to end more than 20 years of authorization for US presidents to use force in that country and return those war powers to Congress.

The repeal is not expected to affect current troop deployments. About 2,500 US troops remain in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi government, to assist and advise local forces. The bipartisan legislation would also repeal the 1991 measure that sanctioned the US-led Gulf war.

Lawmakers in both parties are seeking to claw back powers over military strikes and deployments. Some lawmakers who voted for the Iraq war now say it was a mistake.

Nearly 5,000 US troops were killed after George W Bush falsely claimed Saddam Hussein was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction. Iraqi deaths are estimated in the hundreds of thousands.

“Americans want to see an end to endless Middle East wars,” said the Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, adding that repeal “is a necessary step to putting these bitter conflicts squarely behind us”.

Supporters including almost 20 Republicans, say the repeal is crucial to prevent abuses and to reinforce that Iraq is now a strategic partner. Opponents say the repeal could project weakness as the US faces conflict in the Middle East.

“Our terrorist enemies aren’t sunsetting their war against us,” said the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, who is recovering from a fall and will miss the vote. “When we deploy our service members in harm’s way, we need to supply them with all the support and legal authorities that we can.”

While it is expected to easily pass the Senate, repeal is uncertain in the House, where 49 Republicans joined Democrats in supporting a similar bill two years ago. The speaker, Kevin McCarthy, has suggested he is open to a repeal though he previously opposed it, but Michael McCaul, the Republican chair of the foreign affairs committee, has indicated he would like to replace it. It is unclear what that would be.

In the Senate, the Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine and the Indiana Republican Todd Young said a strong bipartisan vote would send a powerful message to Americans who believe their voices should be heard on matters of war and peace. The two men have been pushing to repeal the measures for years.

“I think that the more time goes by the more people realize that a whole lot of mischief can happen with authorizations that just stay on the books,” Kaine said. “And so it’s been slow, but I’ve always felt like I was picking up more bipartisan support every year, slowly.”

Donald Trump’s administration cited the 2002 Iraq war resolution as part of its legal justification for a 2020 drone strike that killed the Iranian general Qassim Soleimani, but the two war powers resolutions have otherwise rarely been used. A 2001 authorization for the global war on terror would remain in place under the Senate bill, which Joe Biden has said he will support.

Some Republican senators opposing the repeal, including McConnell, have raised concerns about recent attacks against US troops in Syria. A drone strike last week killed an American contractor and wounded five troops and another contractor, then a rocket attack wounded another service member. Iranian-backed militants are believed responsible.

Biden has argued that repeal would not affect any response to Iran. The defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, and Gen Mark Milley, chair of the joint chiefs of staff, both said at a Senate hearing last week US troops are authorized to protect themselves and respond to attacks, including under article two of the constitution, which gives the president the authority to protect troops.

The pushback from McConnell comes amid a growing rift in the Republican party on the US role in the Middle East, with some echoing Trump’s “America First” message to argue against intervention abroad. Other Republicans are concerned Congress is giving too much leeway to the president.

“I think a lot of lessons have been learned over the last 20 years,” said Young, of Indiana, adding that supporters of the bill “want to ensure that the American people can hold us accountable, rather than delegating those important authorities to an executive branch and then lamenting the unwitting wisdom of the executive branch if things don’t go well”.

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