Thursday, August 21, 2014


Iraq

Icons Of The Iraq War: Shoe-Thrower Muntadhar Al-Zaidi And Iraqi Anger

Muntadhar al-Zaidi (left) is welcomed by supporters in Baghdad after his release from prison in September 2009.
Muntadhar al-Zaidi (left) is welcomed by supporters in Baghdad after his release from prison in September 2009.
By Ron Synovitz
The iconic moment of protest against the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq happened more than five years into the war, when an Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at U.S. President George W. Bush -- an act of extreme disrespect in the Islamic world.

Muntadhar al-Zaidi and his shoes became a symbol of resistance to the U.S. presence in Iraq after his outburst at a Baghdad press conference on December 14, 2008.

"This is a farewell kiss from the Iraqi people, you dog," Zaidi yelled. "This is for the widows and orphans and all those killed in Iraq!"

Bush avoided being hit and laughed off the insult, announcing that the shoes were "size 10."

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But the incident became the "shoe heard round the world" because it seemed to encapsulate years of pent-up public rage about the war -- not just in Iraq and the Islamic world but in Europe and even the United States, where the popularity of the outgoing president had waned.

Zaidi's anger also symbolized the depth of frustration within a growing antiwar movement that was calling for Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair to face war-crimes charges.

Served Nine Months

Zaidi was convicted by a Baghdad court of assaulting a foreign head of state during an official visit. He testified that he "felt the blood of the innocent people bleeding from beneath [Bush's] feet." He also told the court he was tortured by his Iraqi guards.

A screen shot shows U.S. President George W. Bush (left) ducking to avoid one of Zaidi's shoes.A screen shot shows U.S. President George W. Bush (left) ducking to avoid one of Zaidi's shoes.
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A screen shot shows U.S. President George W. Bush (left) ducking to avoid one of Zaidi's shoes.
A screen shot shows U.S. President George W. Bush (left) ducking to avoid one of Zaidi's shoes.
His three-year prison sentence was reduced to a year on appeal. In September 2009, after nine months in jail, Zaidi was released early for good behavior.

He emerged as a hero in the eyes of Arabs around the world.

A huge bronze shoe monument was erected in his honor in Tikrit. It remained there a few days before Iraqi authorities ordered its removal.

Copycat shoe-throwing protests proliferated.

Zaidi's former boss at the Cairo-based Al-Baghdadiyah television built a four-bedroom home for him as a reward. Zaidi also was offered jobs from bigger Arab broadcasters and lavish gifts from rich Arab businessmen, including sports cars and a gold-saddled horse.

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One Saudi businessman offered $10 million for Zaidi's famous shoes. But they had been destroyed by security agents who examined them for explosives after the incident.

No Regrets

Zaidi now lives in London, where he has quit journalism to run a humanitarian organization that helps Iraqi war victims.

In Numbers: Iraq War Before And After (CLICK TO ENLARGE)In Numbers: Iraq War Before And After (CLICK TO ENLARGE)
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In Numbers: Iraq War Before And After (CLICK TO ENLARGE)
In Numbers: Iraq War Before And After (CLICK TO ENLARGE)
He told RFE/RL he also is working to expose crimes committed by U.S. forces in Iraq. He also said that if he could turn back the clock to the same moment, he would still throw his shoes at Bush.

"What has changed is that I now have humanitarian commitments toward my people to a greater degree than when I was a journalist reporting on what was happening to the Iraqi people as a result of George [W.] Bush's erroneous policies," Zaidi says. "My role now is to convey the voice of the oppressed Iraqis in the country to the world and to defend them.

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"I am also a small link between Iraqis. I didn't know that Iraqis were euphoric over the incident regardless of my sectarian and ethnic background. All honorable Iraqis acted as spokesmen on my behalf and expressed my views regarding the incident. That is why I am now in close contact with Iraqis, after having spent more than a month trying with them to destroy the seeds of sectarian turmoil that some are trying to sow among the Iraqi people. It is a heavy burden. But I pray for the ability to press ahead."

Zaidi has published a book -- "The Last Salute To President Bush" -- chronicling the moments leading up to his famous shoe throw. It also tells about the suffering Zaidi witnessed as a journalist in Iraq.

His book was adapted into a stage play in New Delhi in 2011 by the Indian film director Mahesh Bhatt, who cast Bollywood actor Imran Zahid as Zaidi.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq

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