It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath. The U.S. military is back in Iraq, not ground troops of course, but 300 military advisers who started arriving this weekend. President Obama says he's sending them to help Iraq's military drive back the Sunni militants who've overrun much of northern Iraq.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: In going forward, we will be prepared to take targeted and precise military action if and when we determine that the situation on the ground requires it. If we do, I will consult closely with Congress and leaders in Iraq and in the region.

RATH: But the president did not promise to seek formal authorization from Congress. As NPR's David Welna reports, that's brought mixed reactions on Capitol Hill.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: After meeting with President Obama at the White House, along with other top congressional leaders from both parties, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said she told him he need not bother going to Congress to take action in Iraq.


REPRESENTATIVE NANCY PELOSI: The president said his lawyers are looking at the authorities and the rest, with my hope that they would conclude that no congressional action was necessary.

WELNA: And that would spare Congress from voting on an incursion that might prove unpopular with voters. A dozen years ago, Pelosi herself voted against giving President George W. Bush permission to invade Iraq. That was years before Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz got to Washington. Last week on the Senate floor, Cruz noted that the Constitution says only Congress can declare war.


SENATOR TED CRUZ: So if the president is planning on launching a concerted offensive attack that is not constrained by the exigency of the circumstances, he should come to Congress first to seek and to receive authorization for the use of military force.

WELNA: Some have argued that a week after the 9/11 attacks, Congress did give the president authority to wage war on groups identified as terrorists when it passed the authorization for the use of military force, or a AUMF. Cornell University law professor Jens Ohlin disagrees.

JENS OHLIN: The AUMF was a 9/11-specific authorization authorization. It was designed to eradicate forces and individuals who were responsible for the 9/11 attacks. And this, in my mind, falls completely outside of that scope.

WELNA: But as Brookings Institution Middle East expert Ken Pollack points out, the U.S. has pursued a lot of alleged terrorists not directly associated with al-Qaida, the perpetrator of the 9/11 attacks. And it's done so, he adds, without specific authorization from Congress.

KEN POLLACK: Clearly the American public have given both President Bush and now President Obama a pretty wide berth in going after terrorists.

WELNA: There's yet another twist under the 1973 War Powers Act. A president can wage war for up to 90 days without congressional approval. Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin says so far, Obama has abided by that law. But Levin says the U.S. should take no action unless asked to do so by Iraq's leaders.

CARL LEVIN: It is not too much to expect, and it is essential that we insist upon this kind of a formal statement from leaders of all of the groups, all of the elements, before we even consider having - sending airstrikes.

WELNA: That kind of exhortation may carry some weight, but without being voted on by Congress, it's just one more item for Obama's suggestion box. David Welna, NPR News, Washington.

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