Iraqi Journalist Hurls Shoes at BushPublished: December 14, 2008
BAGHDAD — President Bush made a valedictory visit on Sunday toIraq, the country that will largely define his legacy, but the trip will more likely be remembered for the unscripted moment when an Iraqi journalist hurled his shoes at Mr. Bush's head and denounced him on live television as a "dog" who had delivered death and sorrow here from nearly six years of war.
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Baghdad Bureau: An Audio Account of the Shoe-Throwing Incident (December 14, 2008)APTN/Associated Press
President Bush, on a surprise trip to Iraq and Afghanistan, got a taste of dissent at a Baghdad press event Sunday when an Iraqi journalist threw shoes at him, forcing him to duck.Evan Vucci/Associated Press
Muntader al-Zaidi throwing a shoe at Mr. Bush, who ducked and later said lightly, "All I can report is it is a size 10."Saul Loeb/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
A man was wrestled to the ground after throwing his shoes at President Bush during a news conference.
The drama unfolded shortly after Mr. Bush appeared at a news conference in Baghdad with Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to highlight the newly adopted security agreement between the United States and Iraq. The agreement includes a commitment to withdraw all American forces by the end of 2011.
The Iraqi journalist, Muntader al-Zaidi, 28, a correspondent for Al Baghdadia, an independent Iraqi television station, stood up about 12 feet from Mr. Bush and shouted in Arabic: "This is a gift from the Iraqis; this is the farewell kiss, you dog!" He then threw a shoe at Mr. Bush, who ducked and narrowly avoided it.
As stunned security agents and guards, officials and journalists watched, Mr. Zaidi then threw his other shoe, shouting in Arabic, "This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq!" That shoe also narrowly missed Mr. Bush as Prime Minister Maliki stuck a hand in front of the president's face to help shield him.
Mr. Maliki's security agents jumped on the man, wrestled him to the floor and hustled him out of the room. They kicked him and beat him until "he was crying like a woman," said Mohammed Taher, a reporter for Afaq, a television station owned by the Dawa Party, which is led by Mr. Maliki. Mr. Zaidi was then detained on unspecified charges.
Other Iraqi journalists in the front row apologized to Mr. Bush, who was uninjured and tried to brush off the incident by making a joke. "All I can report is it is a size 10," he said, continuing to take questions and noting the apologies. He also called the incident a sign of democracy, saying, "That's what people do in a free society, draw attention to themselves," as the man's screaming could be heard outside.
But the moment clearly unnerved Mr. Maliki's aides and some of the Americans in Mr. Bush's entourage, partly because it was televised and may have revealed a security lapse in the so-called Green Zone, the most heavily secured part of Baghdad.
In the chaos, Dana M. Perino, the White House press secretary, who was visibly distraught, was struck in the eye by a microphone stand.
Mr. Bush visited Iraq as part of an unannounced trip that later took him to Afghanistan, where he was meeting on Monday with American troops and President Hamid Karzai.
The shoe-throwing incident in Baghdad punctuated Mr. Bush's visit here — his fourth — in a deeply symbolic way, reflecting the conflicted views in Iraq of a man who toppledSaddam Hussein, ordered the occupation of the country and brought it freedoms unthinkable under Mr. Hussein's rule but at enormous costs.
Hitting someone with a shoe is considered the supreme insult in Iraq. It means that the target is even lower than the shoe, which is always on the ground and dirty. Crowds hurled their shoes at the giant statue of Mr. Hussein that stood in Baghdad's Firdos Square before helping American marines pull it down on April 9, 2003, the day the capital fell. More recently in the same square, a far bigger crowd composed of Iraqis who had opposed the security agreement flung their shoes at an effigy of Mr. Bush before burning it.
Friends described Mr. Zaidi as a devoted journalist. "He was committed to his job and after training in Lebanon became chief of correspondents about a month ago," said Haider Nassar, who worked with him at Baghdadia.
"He had bad feelings about the coalition forces," said Mr. Nassar, referring to the American-led foreign forces in Iraq. Mr. Nassar also said Mr. Zaidi had asked to cover the news conference. Another friend said Mr. Zaidi often ended his reports by saying, "Reporting from occupied Baghdad, this is Muntader al-Zaidi."
Like many Iraqi reporters at the news conference, Mr. Nassar said he did not think this was an effective way for Mr. Zaidi to make his points. "This is so silly; it's just the behavior of an individual," Mr. Nassar said. "He destroyed his future."
The television channel broadcast a request for Mr. Zaidi's release in the name of democracy and freedom of speech. "Any procedure against Muntader will remind us of the behavior of the dictatorship and their violent actions, random detentions and mass graves," the channel said. "Baghdadia TV channel also demands that the international and Iraqi television organizations cooperate in seeking the release of Muntader Zaidi."
Shortly before 10 p.m., Mr. Bush headed from the Green Zone by helicopter to Camp Victory, where he was greeted with cheers and whoops from hundreds of soldiers inside the enormous rotunda of Al Faw palace. Speaking at a lectern beneath an enormous American flag that nearly reached the domed ceiling, he praised the soldiers and reflected on the sacrifices of those who had died.
He called the increased deployment of American troops in Iraq last year, a strategy known as the surge, which is credited with helping reduce violence here, "one of the greatest successes in the history of the United States military."
Mr. Bush's arrival in Iraq during daylight hours was one measure of progress; his first visit on Thanksgiving Day 2003 took place entirely at night.
As with previous visits, preparations were secretive and carried out with ruse. The White House schedule for Sunday had Mr. Bush attending the "Christmas in Washington" performance at the National Building Museum in downtown Washington. Instead, he left the White House by car on Saturday night, arriving at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland at 9 p.m. to board Air Force One. A dozen journalists accompanying him were told of the trip only on Friday and allowed to tell only a superior and a spouse — and only in person.
At his news conference with Mr. Maliki, Mr. Bush described the security agreement as a landmark, signaling a new era in the war he began in the spring of 2003. "There is still more work to be done," the president said about the war, but with the security agreement and "the courage of the Iraqi people, and the Iraqi troops and the American troops and civilian personnel, it is decisively on its way to be won."
Mr. Maliki's partnership with Mr. Bush and his backing of the security deal are unlikely to help him much once Mr. Bush leaves office.
Although a majority in the Iraqi Parliament approved the agreement, on the street, Iraqis have mixed views. Many distrust any pact made with an occupying power, and while Mr. Bush is appreciated for having overthrown Mr. Hussein, he is widely blamed for the violence that raged in the years after the war, which prompted more than a million Iraqis to flee and killed tens of thousands of civilians.
Still, Mr. Bush's stalwart support for Mr. Maliki — after an initial period when the national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, expressed doubts about him — has been a bulwark against domestic political forces who sought to topple him.
With the American president's term ending, Iraqi politicians from parties other than Mr. Maliki's have been discussing whether to force the prime minister out with a no-confidence vote. This is not the first time his ouster has been discussed, but with American power in Iraq on the wane and troop numbers beginning to decline in earnest, it seems a more serious threat.
Weighing against it happening, however, is that there is no agreement on Mr. Maliki's successor or on how to divide cabinet posts. The posts are split among the political blocs that control Parliament and they would be loath to give up anything they had unless they were assured that they would get another position at least as good.
Atheer Kakan, Tareq Maher and Mudafer Husseini contributed reporting.
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