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Iraqi Court Orders Release Of Bush Shoe Thrower

Muntadhir al-Zaidi
BAGHDAD (Reuters) -- An Iraqi court has ordered the release from jail of a reporter who attained worldwide fame when he hurled his shoes at then-U.S. President George W. Bush last December, his lawyer said.

Once an obscure TV reporter, Muntadhir al-Zaidi had been expected to walk free on September 14, but a judge asked for additional documents before ordering his release. Under Iraqi penal procedures, freed prisoners can only leave prison a day after a court ruling, so Zaidi will go home on September 15.

Millions of people across the world saw online or TV footage of Zaidi throwing his shoes at Bush and calling him a "dog," both grave insults in the Middle East.

Zaidi's actions toward Bush during a news conference summed up the feelings of many Iraqis toward the former U.S. leader after the bloodshed and sectarian killing triggered by the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

While many Iraqis were grateful Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein was ousted, some dark chapters in the U.S. occupation, such as the sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison, fuelled broad resentment.

Zaidi was sentenced to three years in jail for assaulting a visiting head of state, but his sentence was later reduced to one year. Zaidi's lawyer, Dhiaa al-Saadi, said the court signed the order for his release on September 14.

"Journalist Muntadhir al-Zaidi will have his freedom from tomorrow, according to a decision by the concerned court," he said. Zaidi served three quarters of his sentence without incurring any behavioral violations, so was automatically granted early release under Iraqi law.

"The act of throwing a shoe at President Bush indicated his rejection of the occupation and its policies in Iraq. This stand has a price, which he paid," Saadi said. "The shackles should be broken."

Venezuela's anti-American President Hugo Chavez called him courageous; a Libyan group headed by Muammar Qaddafi's daughter gave him an award; and fathers from other Arab nations have offered Muntadhir their daughters as brides.

He is likely to get a celebrity welcome and numerous job offers in the Arab media when he gets out.