Thousands Of Iraqis Demand Release Of 'Shoe' Journalist
December 16, 2008
By Heather Maher
Thousands of Iraqis have been protesting to demand the release of a reporter who threw his shoes at U.S. President George W. Bush in anger.
Officials said Muntadhir al-Zaidi was being held in custody after the December 14 incident during Bush's surprise visit to Baghdad.
Al-Zaidi called Bush a "dog" and hurled the shoes as the outgoing U.S. president was holding a news conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
His act has come to symbolize the feelings of thousands of Iraqis who are fed up with the U.S. occupying force.
He is by now probably aware that he has become an unlikely hero to thousands of Iraqis and Arabs across the region who are proud of him for insulting the man they cannot forgive for invading and occupying a country in this region.
Showing the sole of your shoe to someone in the Arab world is the rudest thing you can do, and calling someone a "dog" means you consider them "filthy."
Al-Zaidi could face charges of insulting a foreign leader and if found guilty, could receive a sentence of up to two years in prison or a small fine.
Deeply embarrassed Iraqi officials have denounced his actions, including several members of Iraq's parliament. Many echoed the feeling of Abdullah Alliawi, of the Kurdistan Coalition.
"This journalist should be brought to account as an example to others not to follow suit in the future," Alliawi said.
"This journalist's act was irresponsible, especially when a big guest like the U.S. president had come here to speak to the Iraqi government about the pullout of U.S. forces from Iraq. Therefore, we in parliament demand that this journalist be brought to account."
But those voices are in the minority. Huge crowds of people have been demonstrating in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities to demand al-Zaidi's release and echo his message to Bush.
Ordinary Iraqis are praising al-Zaidi, calling him "brave," and what he did "awesome." Local media has quoted police officers, professors, dentists, and shopkeepers, all saying he did what every Iraqi would like to do.
In Baghdad's Shi'ite slum of Al-Sadr City, thousands of supporters of radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr burned U.S. flags to protest against Bush and called for al-Zaidi's release.
Waving shoes and signs that read "Go Out U.S.A.," they chanted: "Bush, Bush, listen well: Two shoes on your head!"
In Al-Najaf, a Shi'ite holy city, some protesters threw their shoes at a U.S. patrol as it passed by. Witnesses said the U.S. troops did not respond and continued on their patrol.
Arab Praise For Shoe-Thrower
The glee has spread across the Arab world. Pictures of the incident ran on the front pages of newspapers on the morning of December 15 across the region, some showing a shoe in midair, hurtling toward Bush's ducking head, a look of shock on al-Maliki's face.
Satellite television channels showed the melee over and over, while on-air journalists made jokes and held discussions about the myriad ways they disagree with Bush.
Al-Jazeera television even interviewed Saddam Hussein's former chief lawyer, Khalil al-Dulaymi, who offered to defend al-Zaidi.
And Al-Baghdadiyah, the Iraqi-owned, Cairo-based television station where al-Zaidi works, aired continuous pleas to release their reporter against a video background of explosions and music that denounced the U.S. presence in Iraq.
Al-Zaidi, a 28-year-old, unmarried Shi'a, has faced two enemies in his country's six-year war. He has been detained by the Americans and last year was seized by militia members and held for three days before being released unharmed. He joined Al-Baghdadiyah television in September 2005 after graduating from Baghdad University with a degree in communications.
According to his family, both experiences, plus his daily reporting on the violent conflict, contributed to his passionate resentment of U.S. soldiers in his country.
Al-Zaidi's sister has called him a hero, and his brothers have publicly defended his actions. His brother Uday praised his courage.
"Millions of Iraqis, or rather millions of people in the world, wish to do what Muntadhir did, or something similar. Thank God he has got the courage to do it, and to avenge the Iraqi people and the country, and to stand up to those who plunder it and have killed its people," Uday al-Zaidi said.
"More than 5 million people were orphaned by Bush and his aides. We thank God for everything that might happen to Muntadhir. We say thank God because Muntadhir has raised our head and the heads of the Iraqi people high."
The incident came at a particularly bad time for Bush. The outgoing U.S. leader was on a surprise last visit to Iraq to put some polish on his long and controversial entanglement with the country.
Copyright (c) 2008. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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