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US Senate votes to repeal 2002 Iraq war authorisation

Move comes as Congress looks to reassert oversight of war powers
Senators Tim Kaine, centre right, and Todd Young, centre left, speak to reporters about ending Authorisation for Use of Military Force enacted after 9/11 attacks, at the Capitol in Washington, on 16 March 2023 (AP)

The US Senate voted on Wednesday to repeal the resolution that permitted the 2003 invasion of Iraq, in a largely symbolic but bipartisan move to reassert Congressional oversight of war power.

The Senate voted 66-30 to repeal the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF)  in Iraq and also the 1991 authorization that green-lighted the first Gulf War.

Democratic Senator Tim Kaine and Republican Senator Todd Young led efforts to repeal the resolutions. The resolution will now move to the House for a vote. If it passes, President Joe Biden has suggested he will sign it into law.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who voted for the repeal, said the AUMFs had "outlived their use".

 "The United States, Iraq, the entire world has changed dramatically since 2002, and it's time the laws on the books catch up with those changes," he added. 

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Many lawmakers praised Kaine and Young’s bipartisan efforts. 

“This bill is going to become the law of the land. Congress is going to take back its constitutional responsibility over the power to declare war and to put our troops in harm’s way,” Democratic Senator Mark Warner said. 

Republican Senator Rand Paul also welcomed the resolution’s passing: “Each decade we get beyond the end of the war, I think most people are finally figuring out the war’s over,” he said, adding that Young, a former Marine, was “very, very good” at convincing his GOP colleagues to support the measure.

The repeal is largely symbolic and is not expected to affect current military deployments. However, it has been used by Republican and Democratic presidents to justify the use of military force abroad.

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Former President Donald Trump's advisor claimed that they used the 2002 resolution in part to justify the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, and President Obama used it to justify air strikes against the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria.

Some lawmakers voiced opposition to the repeal. 

“I’m also worried about how our adversaries will read this,” Republican Senator Marco Rubio, who opposed repeal, said. “Will this be used against us?” Republicans, who control the House of Representatives, are also divided over the repeal.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell issued a statement against the repeal on Tuesday.

“I am opposed to Congress sunsetting any military force authorizations in the Middle East,” he wrote. “Our terrorist enemies aren’t sunsetting their war against us. And when we deploy our servicemembers in harm’s way, we need to supply them with all the support and legal authorities that we can.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has suggested he is open to supporting the 2002 resolution. “I don’t have a problem repealing that,” McCarthy said, but he stipulated he will not vote for a bill that also includes a repeal of a 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force passed after the 9/11 attacks, which is a much broader legal cover for counterterrorism operations around the globe.

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