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US Senate backs repeal of ‘zombie’ Iraq war authorizations, 20 years after invasion

file photo: us army soldier walks towards burning oil well in southern iraq
FILE PHOTO: A U.S. Army soldier walks towards a burning oil well in Iraq's vast southern Rumaila oilfields, March 30, 2003. U.S. engineers moved through the oilfields on Sunday shutting down wellheads in an operation that could take months to complete. Having discovered a cache of arms and a minefield, U.S. troops must tread carefully in their mission to safeguard the region's oilfields, which pumped more than half of Iraq oil exports before the war began. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis/File Photo EDITORIAL USE ONLY - NO COMMERCIAL OR BOOK SALES.

The U.S. Senate backed legislation on Wednesday to repeal two decades-old authorizations for past wars in Iraq, as Congress pushes to reassert its role in deciding whether to send troops into combat 20 years after the last invasion.

The Democrat-led Senate voted 66-30 in favor of legislation to repeal the 1991 and 2002 Authorizations for the Use of Military Force, or AUMFs, well above the 51-vote majority needed to pass the measure that would formally end the Gulf and Iraq wars.

To become law, the repeal of the two AUMFs must still pass the Republican-led House of Representatives, where its prospects are less certain. All of the votes against repeal in the Senate were from Republicans and the party’s leader in the chamber, Mitch McConnell, issued a statement opposing it.

President Joe Biden has said he will sign the measure if it reaches his desk.

Twenty years after the March 2003 U.S. invasion that toppled Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, the vote was a historic step away from a war that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and thousands of Americans, complicated policy in the Middle East and bitterly divided U.S. politics.

Supporters of repeal also said it recognized that Iraq is no longer an adversary, but has become a U.S. security partner.

The resolution also would repeal the Gulf War AUMF approved in 1991 after Saddam’s Iraq invaded Kuwait.

The Iraq AUMFs have been labeled “zombie” authorizations because they never expire but their original purpose no longer applies.

It was also the latest effort by U.S. lawmakers to reclaim congressional authority over whether troops should be sent into combat, which backers of the repeal said had been improperly ceded to the White House as the Senate and the House passed and then failed to repeal open-ended war authorizations.

“This vote shows that Congress is prepared to call back our constitutional role in deciding how and when a nation goes to war, and also when it should end wars,” said Senator Bob Menendez, Democratic chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, before the vote.

“It also protests against future administrations abusing authorizations that outlive their mandate but still remain on the books,” Menendez said.

Under the U.S. constitution, Congress, not the president, has the right to declare war.

Lawmakers have been divided over whether to let the AUMFs stand, leaving it to military commanders to decide how best to fight U.S. enemies. As a result, no AUMF repeals have passed since 1971, although some have passed committees or one chamber of Congress.

McConnell, who is out of Washington recovering from a fall, issued a statement opposing the repeal.

“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,” he said, citing recent attacks such as one last week in Syria that killed one American and wounded six others.

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