Jun 28, 2021 - World

U.S. airstrikes reignite debate over Iraq war powers

Black and white surveillance photo of a drone facility

A drone facility allegedly used by Iran-backed militias on the Iraq-Syria border, moments before an airstrike. Screenshot of video via U.S. Central Command.

The U.S. launched airstrikes Sunday night against three facilities on the Iraq-Syria border, which the Pentagon says Iran-backed militias have been using to carry out drone attacks on U.S. personnel.

Why it matters: The Washington Post reported last month that U.S. officials were growing increasingly alarmed by the use of small, low-flying drones — rather than traditional rocket fire — to covertly strike U.S. targets in Iraq.

The Biden administration seriously considered taking military action in April after an explosive-laden drone targeted a CIA hangar in Irbil, according to the Post, but ultimately declined.

  • A recent spate of attacks appears to have changed the calculus on what officials believe is currently the biggest threat to the military mission in Iraq.

Zoom in: Last night's strike marks the second time since taking office that President Biden has approved a "defensive" operation against Iran-backed militias in the region, and it comes just two weeks after the House voted to repeal the 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) in Iraq — a move Biden supports.

In a statement disclosing the airstrikes, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby cited Biden's "Article II authority to protect U.S. personnel in Iraq" as justification for the attack, rather than the AUMF. But not everyone's satisfied.

  • "I’m just as worried about the expansion of Article II authority interpretation as I am about the expansion of existing AUMF interpretation,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told Politico.
  • Murphy, an influential voice on foreign policy in the Democratic Party, warned that the fighting between U.S. forces and Iranian proxies is beginning to look like "low-scale war," and he said Biden should consider asking Congress for a new authorization.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, applauded the strike but called it "overdue" and an example of the "continued need" for the 2002 AUMF.

  • Inhofe added that while he currently opposes repealing the 2002 AUMF, Congress should consider a "comprehensive replacement" to address the "ongoing threat" that Iran-backed militias pose to U.S. troops.

The Iraqi government, meanwhile, called the airstrike a "blatant and unacceptable violation of Iraqi sovereignty," condemning the idea that its country should be an "arena for settling accounts."

Go deeper