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Democrats criticize Biden's Iraq airstrikes, reignite war powers debate

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Photo shows US President Joe Biden in a meeting with Israeli president Reuven Rivlin in the Oval Office, in Washington, DC, US, on June 28, 2021. (By AFP)

More US voices have joined the chorus of opposition to President Joe Biden’s weekend airstrikes against facilities belonging to Iraqi anti-terror resistance groups on Iraq-Syria border, with Democrats expressing frustration over his decision to sidestep Congress again. 

Democratic lawmakers have already been infuriated over Biden's airstrikes in the region earlier this year without first seeking congressional approval, a move which reignited the party’s long-running push to rein in presidential war powers.

Biden cited his authority under Article II of the Constitution, which allows him to take steps to protect US service members.

Some Democrats, however, sounded the alarm about possible abuses of that power, which the US president has employed to circumvent Congress and legally justify various military operations.

“The danger here is that you fall into a pattern of military escalation that becomes war without voters ever having a say,” Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a top member of the Foreign Relations Committee said. “The safest bet for a president is to just claim broad Article II authority.”

Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the Foreign Relations panel’s chair, also suggested he wants a broader examination of Biden’s legal rationale for the airstrikes. 

“Congress has the power to authorize the use of military force and declarations of war, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is planning to hear from the administration more on these strikes,” Menendez said on Monday.

Biden's airstrikes came as US lawmakers were already working to repeal the two-decade-old authorizations for the use of military force in Iraq.

The Iraqi government condemned the airstrikes on its soil on Monday, with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi denouncing the attack as “blatant” violation of his country’s sovereignty. Kadhimi said “Iraq reiterates its refusal to be an arena for settling scores.”

Iraq’s Sabereen News said four Iraqi fighters were killed in the attack on the headquarters of the 14th Brigade of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units -- also known as Hashd al-Sha'abi -- which is an anti-terror umbrella organization.

The official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) also reported that the air raids that targeted Syria killed one child and wounded three others.

The Pentagon said Monday Air Force jets from US Central Command bases carried out the attacks, claiming that each strike hit its intended target and diminished "threat" to US forces.

But Democrats have demanded classified briefings about the nature of the "threat." Several already view the airstrikes as “hostilities” under the War Powers Act that require congressional approval.

“The administration would be better off coming to Congress and asking for a debate on a declaration of war if they foresee a need to continue to go back and forth with (Iraqi) groups," Murphy said.

Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who has led the effort in the upper chamber to repeal the 1991 and 2002 Iraq war authorizations, said he was concerned that the conflict would “escalate without a congressional discussion” but added that Biden’s actions were a “classic” self-defense mechanism.

Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.) said continuing airstrikes is not deterring attacks on US troops in Iraq. "I look forward to hearing a realistic plan from the Biden administration to de-escalate — as we discussed back in February — because we can’t keep launching strikes over and over again and expecting a different result.”

Republicans were mostly mum about the airstrikes as of Monday, said US media. Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said, "I believe these actions are overdue and highlight the continued need for the 2002 AUMF, or — at a minimum — the need for a comprehensive replacement before a repeal can be considered."

Syria’s Foreign and Expatriates Ministry said the US aggression proved once again “the recklessness of US policies and the need for Washington to withdraw its aggressor forces” from the region.

Iraqi and Syria experts consider the attacks to be an attempt by the US to entrench and prolong its military presence in those countries by targeting the groups that fight directly against Daesh, Washington’s apparent excuse for the military interference.

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