US lawmakers were not told in advance of the attack ordered by President Donald Trump that killed a top Iranian military commander, a senior House Democrat said late on Thursday.
General Qassim Soleimani, head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, was killed in a US airstrike alongside top Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis early on Friday.
The high-profile assassinations are likely to be a massive blow to Iran, which has been locked in a long conflict with the United States that escalated sharply last week with the storming of the US embassy in Iraq.
While Republicans cheered news of Soleimani’s demise, Democrats said there were legal concerns over the operation and warned of severe repercussions.
The strike conducted in Iraq “went forward with no notification or consultation with Congress,” House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Eliot Engel said in a statement.
Soleimani was “the mastermind of immense violence” who has “the blood of Americans on his hands,” the Democratic lawmaker said.
But “to push ahead with an action of this gravity without involving Congress raises serious legal problems and is an affront to Congress’s powers as a coequal branch of government,” Mr Engel added.
The White House traditionally notifies senior members of both parties in the Senate and House of Representatives ahead of major military action.
But top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer “was not given advanced notice” of the strike, a senior Democratic aide told AFP.
The War Powers Resolution requires the president to notify Congress within 48 hours of committing armed forces to military action.
But several Democrats have warned that Congress’s constitutional role in making decisions about war have been eroded in the first three years of the Trump administration.
“Even if this strike was in self-defence, no current congressional authorisation covered it and the President needs to notify Congress within 48 hours pursuant to the War Powers Resolution,” Mr Engel said.
Senior Democrats lined up to warn that the move threatened stability in the region.
Joe Biden, a Democratic presidential candidate, said “no American will mourn Solemani’s passing”.
My statement on the killing of Qassem Soleimani. pic.twitter.com/4Q9tlLAYFB
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) January 3, 2020
But he warned that the move would likely have significant ramifications in the region.
“President Trump just tossed a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox, and he owes the American people an explanation of the strategy and plan to keep safe our troops and embassy personnel, our people and our interests, both here at home and abroad, and our partners throughout the region and beyond.”
US Senator Elizabeth Warren, another Democratic presidential contender, said “Soleimani was a murderer, responsible for the deaths of thousands, including hundreds of Americans”.
“But this reckless move escalates the situation with Iran and increases the likelihood of more deaths and new Middle East conflict. Our priority must be to avoid another costly war.”
Republicans hailed the strike and congratulated Mr Trump.
“Qassem Soleimani was an arch terrorist with American blood on his hands,” former US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, said on Twitter. “His demise should be applauded by all who seek peace and justice.
“Proud of President Trump for doing the strong and right thing.”
To the Iranian government: If you want to stay in the oil business leave America and our allies alone and stop being the largest state sponsor of terrorism in the world.
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) January 3, 2020
Lindsey Graham, senator of South Carolina, threatened Iran with attacks on its oil refineries if it continues to target US interests.
“Thank you, Mr. President, for standing up for America,” Mr Graham said. “If Iran continues to attack America and our allies, they should pay the heaviest of prices, which includes the destruction of their oil refineries.”