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Congressional Authority To Limit U.S. Military Operations in Iraq

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Publication Date: July 2007

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: RL33837

Topic: Military and defense (Military policy)

Coverage: Iraq


On October 16, 2002, President Bush signed the Authorization for Use of Military Force against Iraq Resolution of 2002. Since the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, Congress has enacted appropriation bills to fund the continuation of the Iraq war, including military training, reconstruction, and other aid for the government of Iraq. The situation in Iraq has focused attention on whether Congress has the constitutional authority to legislate limits on the President's authority to conduct military operations in Iraq, even though it did not initially provide express limits. Specifically under consideration is whether Congress may, through limitations on appropriations, set a ceiling on the number of soldiers the President may assign to duty in Iraq. In addition, several measures have been introduced calling for the repeal or expiration of the authorization for use of military force (AUMF) against Iraq.

It has been suggested that the President's role as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces provides sufficient authority for his deployment of additional troops, and any efforts on the part of Congress to intervene could represent an unconstitutional violation of separation-of-powers principles. While even proponents of strong executive prerogative in matters of war appear to concede that it is within Congress's authority to cut off funding entirely for a military operation, it has been suggested that spending measures that restrict but do not end financial support for the war in Iraq would amount to an "unconstitutional condition." The question may turn on whether the President's proposal is a purely operational decision committed to the President in his role as Commander in Chief, or whether congressional action to prevent the proposal's carrying out is a valid exercise of Congress's authority to allocate resources using its war powers and power of the purse.

This report begins by providing background and discusses constitutional provisions allocating war powers between Congress and the President, and presents a historical overview of relevant court cases. Next, it discusses Congress's power to rescind prior military authorization and the consequences of such a repeal. Evaluating relevant jurisprudence and the pertinent provisions of the War Powers Resolution, it concludes that the repeal of the AUMF, absent the further denial of appropriations or the establishment of a specific deadline for troop withdrawal, would likely have little, if any, legal effect on the continuation of combat operations. Finally, the report discusses Congress's ability to limit funding for military operations in Iraq. It examines relevant court cases and prior measures taken by Congress to restrict military operations, as well as possible alternative avenues to fund operations in the event Congress were to restrict appropriations for the war. There follows a summary of measures passed by both Houses in the Supplemental Appropriations Act, Fiscal Year 2007, H.R. 1591, related to the redeployment of U.S. troops from Iraq. The report concludes by providing a brief analysis of arguments that might be brought to bear on the question of Congress's authority to limit the availability of troops to serve in Iraq. Although not beyond debate, such a restriction appears to be within Congress's authority to allocate resources for military operations.