WASHINGTON, March 5 (Reuters) - The U.S. military has authority to conduct combat operations in Iraq beyond the end of this year, even though a United Nations mandate for force ends then, a State Department official said on Wednesday.
David Satterfield, the State Department’s coordinator for Iraq, said Congress had authorized U.S. combat in Iraq back in 2002, and the Bush administration did not believe it needed to seek "explicit additional authorization" from Congress for U.S. combat beyond the end of this year.
Satterfield made his statement in a letter to Rep. Gary Ackerman, a New York Democrat who told Reuters the letter signaled the administration thought of the Iraq war as limitless.
"This is a forever thing with them," said Ackerman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Middle East and South Asia.
Ackerman had demanded the written explanation from Satterfield during a tense hearing Tuesday probing the administration’s plans to draft long-term security agreements with Iraq before Bush leaves the White House in January.
"Whether or not the authorization for the Multi-National Force in Iraq in United Nations Security Council Resolution 1790 is extended, the U.S. military has the authority to continue its mission beyond the end of this year under the laws passed by Congress and the President’s authority as Commander in Chief under the Constitution," Satterfield wrote.
Ackerman and other lawmakers have expressed concern that the agreements the Bush administration plans to negotiate with Iraq on security and other issues could deepen the U.S. military commitment without Congress being consulted.
The administration says it will not need to seek lawmakers’ approval of the "status of forces" agreement and a "strategic framework" agreement with Iraq, because they are not treaties.
"I think it would be helpful if they were consulting with Congress throughout the process. They have the hubris and arrogance to say this is their sole purview," Ackerman said.
He thought the administration’s attitude could make more lawmakers willing to vote to cut off funding for the war to stop it, a step most have so far been unwilling to take.
Satterfield, in his letter, noted Congress authorized the use of force in Iraq in October 2002. The U.S. invaded Iraq in March 2003 and has 158,000 troops there now.
Satterfield also recalled that Congress, after the Sept. 11 attacks, authorized the president to use force against nations, organizations or persons involved in those attacks, in order to prevent any further acts of terrorism.