Bush attacked by shoe-throwing journalist

A reporter working for the Al-Baghdadiya TV satellite channel hurled two shoes at outgoing US President George W. Bush as he held a press conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Baghdad on Sunday. Thousands of Iraqis took to the streets in support of Muntazer Al-Zaidi, and many Arab media commentators have hailed his action as heroic.
Al Zaidi on al-Baghdadiya TV, right, and being wrestled to the ground up at the press conference. R.R.

BEIRUT, December 15, 2008 (MENASSAT) — In his last visit to Iraq, which will largely define his presidential legacy, President George W. Bush received a welcome he and the rest of the world won't forget.

The outgoing president was making his final remarks at a joint press conference with Al-Maliki to highlight the newly adopted security agreement between the United States and Iraq (SOFA), when 29-year-old Iraqi Al-Baghdadiya reporter Muntazer al-Zaidi jumped up from his seat and hurled two shoes at Bush. The first shoe flew over Bush's head as he ducked to avoid it and landed with a loud thud against the wall behind him.

"This is a gift from the Iraqis. This is the farewell kiss, you dog," Al-Zaidi was quoted as saying.

Al-Zaidi threw a second shoe, which also missed Bush by a small margin as Al-Maliki shielded Bush's face with his hand. The journalist was then wrestled to the floor by Maliki's security guards and marched out of the conference room. In the tumult, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino is said to have been hit in the eye with a microphone.

'It was a size ten'

Startled but seemingly amused by the incident, Bush joked "all he could report was that it was a size 10."

CNN reported that Bush later compared the shoe-throwing incident with heckling during a political rally and said that it was "a way to gain attention.'" Once aboard the Presidential airplane Air Force One, Bush reportedly told journalists that the incident did not reflect popular opinion in Iraq.

The soles of shoes are considered a grave insult in Iraqi culture. Hitting someone with a sole means that the target is even lower than the shoe itself, since it is always dirty on the ground. When the statue of Saddam Hussein was torn down in Baghdad in April 2003, onlookers hit the statue's face with the soles of their shoes.

In a phone call with MENASSAT, a representative from Al-Baghdadiya TV, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to speak to the press, said that Al-Zaidi is currently being detained by the Iraqi authorities.

An unnamed Iraqi official told the AP that Al-Zaidi is being interrogated by the Iraqi prime minister's security guards at Al-Maliki headquarters. The unidentified official said Al-Zaidi was being questioned over whether he had been paid by anyone to throw the shoes at Bush, in addition to being tested for alcohol and drugs. The shoes thrown are reportedly being held as evidence.

Meanwhile, Al-Baghdadiya has broadcast pleas for the release of Al-Zaidi, while airing footage of explosions and playing background music that denounced the US actions in Iraq.

Thousands take to the streets

"We have all been mobilized to work on releasing him, and all the organizations around the world are with us. This whole thing is putting the Iraqis and the Americans to a test. Are they going to release him or try him?" Abdel-Hameed al-Sayeh, the manager of Al-Baghdadia in Cairo, told AP.

In Iraq, the shoe incident generated a great response both from the public as well as from mass media. Thousands of demonstrators reportedly took to the streets of Baghdad's Shiite slum of Sadr City, where supporters of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr burned American flags and demanded the release of al-Zaidi.

"Bush, Bush, listen well: Two shoes on your head," AP quoted the protestors as shouting.

Bush's shoe legacy.

Arab news networks, including Al-Jazeera repeatedly broadcast Al-Zaidi's shoe-throwing number on Monday, while Arab editors and commentators opposing the US invasion of Iraq hailed Al-Zaidi as a hero.

Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of the pan-Arab London-based newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi, referred to the incident on the paper's website as a "a proper goodbye for a war criminal.'" The website of Iran's Press TV carried a report titled, "Iraq cheers reporter for Bush shoe attack," saying that Al-Zaidi's act "shocked the world" and that the citizens of Baghdad "voiced approval over the stunning act."

The popular Cairo-based pan-Arab blog Arabist also hailed Al-Zaidi's act, referring to it as a "beautiful scene that makes you want to cry with joy."

The US online magazine Huffington Post dedicated its entire front page to the shoe-throwing incident, which generated more than 5,800 reader comments.

"One small shoe for a man, one giant shoe for mankind. The Bush legacy rolls on," read a comment from Belisarius. Reader "Lissak" saluted the Iraqi journalist, saying he wished that American reporters would have had the guts to do the same. "The American press should have had the courage to do some shoe-throwing a long time ago," he wrote.

But others found Al-Zaidi's act stupid and unnecessary.

Haider Nassar, who worked with Al-Zaidi at Baghdadia said in an interview with the International Herald Tribune that Al-Zaidi's act was silly. "This is so silly; it's just the behavior of an individual. He destroyed his future," said Nassar.

At Sunday's news conference with Maliki, Bush called the security agreement, which calls for the withdrawal of US troops by 2011, a "landmark" agreement.

The security agreement was approved by a majority of the Iraqi Parliament but public views on the pact remain mixed. Many distrust any agreement made with an occupying power.