President Barack Obama reversed course and decided not to release photos depicting the abuse of detainees after Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki warned that his nation would erupt in violence if the photos were made public.
"Baghdad will burn," Maliki reportedly told U.S. officials.
The U.S. had a May 28 deadline to release the photos in response to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. Christopher Hill, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, and other American officials told Maliki that the administration was preparing to release photos of suspected detainee abuse taken from 2003 to 2006.
Maliki "went pale in the face" when told of the planned release, McClatchy newspapers' Washington Bureau reported on Monday.
"Maliki warned that releasing the photos would lead to more violence that could delay the scheduled U.S. withdrawal from cities by June 30," according to McClatchy.
Iraqi is scheduled to hold a referendum by July 30 on an agreement that calls for the withdrawal of all American troops from Iraq by the end of 2011, and "the public outrage and increase in violence" resulting from the photos could lead Iraqis to reject the agreement, Maliki warned.
In that case, the U.S. would have to withdraw from Iraq within a year of the vote, perhaps before the Iraqis are prepared to protect the country on their own.
Maliki put "heavy pressure" on Hill and Army Gen. Raymond Odierno, the top American military commander in Iraq, to stop the release of the photos, McClatchy reported.
Hill, Odierno and other military leaders then urged President Obama to halt the release.
And on May 13, Obama announced the decision not to make the photos public, saying he feared they would "further inflame anti-American opinion and put our troops in greater danger."
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