US officials had urged Iraq's prime minister to delay the execution of former president Saddam Hussein, in part because of legal questions the Americans believed were unresolved, a newspaper reported on Wednesday.
When Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki rejected the US appeals, he cited his fear that there could be a mass kidnapping to ransom Saddam or some other attempt to free him, the New York Times reported.
The US officials warned al-Maliki that there would be a "negative reaction" by staging the execution early Saturday because it was the start of the Sunni Muslim feast of Adha, the Times quoted an unnamed senior US official as saying.
Saddam was a Sunni. An Iraqi court upheld his death sentence last Tuesday and Maliki's government had sought a speedy execution.
In talking to al-Maliki, the US officials also voiced concerns about constitutional and legal questions that they believe raised doubt about the execution's legitimacy, the Times said. It gave no details on the legal issues.
When al-Maliki decided it should go ahead, the Americans decided they could not stop the execution out of respect for Iraqi sovereignty, the report said. The US officials last talked with al-Maliki about the matter late Friday, it said.
Saddam's hanging for crimes against humanity has inflamed Sunni Iraqis after a cell phone video surfaced of witnesses taunting Saddam in his last moments by chanting the name of Moqtada al-Sadr, an anti-US Shia cleric.