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Secret Player Behind Obama’s Torture-Photos Reversal: Iraqi PM

Strange as it sounds, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was a strong proponent of President Obama’s decision to reverse course and argue in court that photographs depicting torture of Iraqis by U.S. troops ought to be kept private, according to McClatchy’s Nancy Youssef:

The official said Maliki warned that releasing the photos would lead to more violence that could delay the scheduled U.S. withdrawal from cities by June 30 and that Iraqis wouldn’t make a distinction between old and new photos. The public outrage and increase in violence could lead Iraqis to demand a referendum on the security agreement and refuse to permit U.S. forces to stay until the end of 2011.

Maliki said, “Baghdad will burn” if the photos are released, said a second U.S. military official.

The prospect of losing a popular referendum — slated to be held, if it occurs at all (it’s unclear), by July 30 — that would compel U.S. forces to withdraw from Iraq ahead of the Status of Forces Agreement’s December 2011 timeframe was also referenced in statements from Gen. Raymond Odierno, commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, and Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. troops in the Middle East and South Asia, to the Second Circuit Circuit Court of Appeals last week. Petraeus told the court that releasing the photographs would mean “pressure will mount on the Prime Minister to allow for a national referendum on the Security Agreement and the Strategic Framework Agreement.” Odierno assessed, “The release of the photos may incite the Iraqi public and cause the referendum to be defeated.” He added that “senior Iraqi officials” — he didn’t mention Maliki by name — believe that releasing the images would benefit Iraqi rejectionists, who would argue against reconciliation “with a Government that has aligned itself with a country that committed this abuse.” (The full statements, in PDF format, are here.)

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