Blurred Lines: Does Pompeo Have the Authority to Fight Iran for Iraq?

Matthew Petti

The Trump administration is pointing the finger at Iranian-backed militias—and laying down a new red line—after a volley of rockets slammed into Baghdad International Airport, injuring five Iraqi soldiers.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned on Friday that the United States must “remind Iran’s leaders that any attacks by them, or their proxies of any identity” that harm Americans, America’s allies, or America’s interests “will be answered with a decisive U.S. response.”

“Iran must respect the sovereignty of its neighbors and immediately cease its provision of lethal aid and support to third parties in Iraq and throughout the region,” he said.

Pompeo’s warning seemed to imply that the United States could fight Iran to defend the sovereignty and stability of Iraq. The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for clarification on this issue. But the statement raised eyebrows over the Trump administration’s war powers—and reopened questions that Congress has been fighting over for months. 

“The bipartisan majority in Congress has made clear that Trump can’t go to war with Iran without our vote. That’s why I’ve supported prohibiting the use of funds for a first strike without congressional authorization,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) told the National Interest. “The administration’s ‘maximum pressure’ campaign with Iran has been a total disaster. Iran is further away from the negotiating table, and we are closer to war than ever.”

Unknown attackers have launched rockets near several U.S. military bases in Iraq over the past few weeks, amidst U.S.-Iranian tensions and an ongoing popular uprising against the Iraqi government. U.S. officials, including Pompeo, point the finger at Iran.

The U.S. military can respond to a direct attack, as Operation Inherent Resolve Spokesman Army Col. Myles Caggins emphasized to the National Interest: “we have the right to self-defense.”

But it’s less clear whether the Trump administration can legally order U.S. forces to retaliate for an attack like last week’s incident, which only injured Iraqi personnel.

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