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In Iraqi’s Shoe-Hurling Protest, Arabs Find a Hero

Posted by tothewire on December 16, 2008

A shoe was raised during a protest against President Bush in the Shiite stronghold of Sadr City in Baghdad on Monday

A shoe was raised during a protest against President Bush in the Shiite stronghold of Sadr City in Baghdad on Monday

BAGHDAD — Calling someone the “son of a shoe” is one of the worst insults in Iraq. But the lowly shoe and the Iraqi who threw both of his at President Bush, with widely admired aim, were embraced around the Arab world on Monday as symbols of rage at a still unpopular war.

In Saudi Arabia, a newspaper reported that a man had offered $10 million to buy just one of what has almost certainly become the world’s most famous pair of black dress shoes.

A daughter of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the Libyan leader, reportedly awarded the shoe thrower, Muntader al-Zaidi, a 29-year-old journalist, a medal of courage.

In the Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City, people calling for an immediate American withdrawal removed their footwear and placed the shoes and sandals at the end of long poles, waving them high in the air. And in the southern Iraqi city of Najaf, people threw their shoes at a passing American convoy.

In street-corner conversations, on television and in Internet chat rooms, the subject of shoes was inescapable throughout much of the Middle East on Monday, as was the defiant act that inspired the interest: a huge and spontaneous eruption of anger at President Bush on Sunday in his final visit here. Some deplored Mr. Zaidi’s act as a breach of respect or of traditional Arab hospitality toward guests, even if they shared the sentiment. (Mr. Bush, having demonstrated his quick reflexes, then brushed it off as an expression of democracy.)

“Although that action was not expressed in a civilized manner, it showed the Iraqi feelings, which is to object to the American occupation,” said Qutaiba Rajaa, a 58-year-old physician in Samarra, a Sunni stronghold north of Baghdad.

But many more expressed undiluted pleasure. “I swear by God that all Iraqis with their different nationalities are glad about this act,” said Yaareb Yousif Matti, a 45-year-old teacher from Mosul, in northern Iraq.

Mr. Zaidi, who remained in custody Monday, provided a rare moment of unity in a region often at odds with itself. Glee, even if thinly veiled, could be discerned in much of the reporting, especially in places where anti-American sentiment runs deepest.

In Syria, Mr. Zaidi’s picture was shown all day on state television, with Syrians calling in to share their admiration for his gesture and his bravery. In central Damascus, a huge banner hung over a street, reading, “Oh, heroic journalist, thank you so much for what you have done.”

In Lebanon, reactions varied by political affiliation, but curiosity about the episode was universal. An American visitor to a school in Beirut’s southern suburb, where the Shiite militant group Hezbollah is popular, was besieged with questions from teachers and students alike, who wanted to know what Americans thought about the insult.

“It’s the talk of the city,” said Ibrahim Mousawi, a Beirut journalist and political analyst affiliated with Hezbollah. “Everyone is proud of this man, and they’re saying he did it in our name.”

The instantly mythic moment took place Sunday night at a news conference by President Bush and Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki in Baghdad’s Green Zone, a session meant partly to trumpet recent security gains in Iraq.

As Mr. Bush was speaking, Mr. Zaidi rose abruptly from about 12 feet away, reared his right arm and fired a shoe at the president’s head while shouting in Arabic: “This is a gift from the Iraqis; this is the farewell kiss, you dog!”

Mr. Bush deftly ducked and the shoe narrowly missed him. A few seconds later, the journalist tossed his other shoe, again with great force, this time shouting, “This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq!” Again, the shoe sailed over the president’s head.

Mr. Zaidi was subdued by a fellow journalist and then beaten by members of the prime minister’s security detail, who hauled him out of the room in his white socks. Mr. Zaidi’s cries could be heard from a nearby room as the news conference continued.

A number of Iraqis said they were dismayed by what Mr. Zaidi had done. Ahmad Abu Risha, the head of the Awakening Council in Anbar Province, a group of tribal leaders that started a wave of popular opposition to fighters linked to Al Qaeda, condemned the move.

“The American president is the guest of all Iraqis,” he said. “The Iraqi government has to choose good journalists to attend such conferences.”

Mr. Zaidi, who has not been formally charged, faces up to seven years in prison for committing an act of aggression against a visiting head of state. It was unclear whether his popularity would prompt Mr. Maliki’s government to lighten his punishment.

A statement from Mr. Maliki’s government described the shoe-throwing as a “shameful, savage act that is not related to journalism in any way.” It called on Al Baghdadia, the Cairo-based satellite television network for which Mr. Zaidi works, to publicly apologize.

But as of Monday night, no apology from the network had been forthcoming. Instead, it posted an image of Mr. Zaidi in a corner of the screen for much of the day. When viewers were invited to phone in, the vast majority approved of his actions.

During an interview in Sadr City, a brother of Muntader al-Zaidi’s, Maythem al-Zaidi, 28, said Muntader had been offered representation, free, by more than 100 lawyers from around the world, including one who had represented Saddam Hussein.

He mentioned that his brother had been detained early this year for several hours by the United States military, but he described him as apolitical and said the act had been spontaneous.

“I am proud of my brother,” he said, “as all Iraqis would be.”

But Saif al-Deen, 25, a copy editor at the television network, said Mr. Zaidi had been planning some sort of protest against Mr. Bush for nearly a year.

“I remember at the end of 2007,” Mr. Deen said, “he told me, ‘You will see how I will take revenge on the criminal Bush in my personal way about the crimes that he has committed against innocent Iraqi people.’ ”

Mr. Deen said that he had tried to talk his friend out of doing anything, but that Mr. Zaidi had “insisted he would do it.”

Mr. Zaidi’s hero status continued to grow on Monday.

In Damascus, a 34-year-old shop owner, who gave his name only as Muhammad, said he was on his way to celebrate the shoe-throwing incident with friends.

“This is like a holiday,” he said. “This is just what we needed for revenge.”


Reporting was contributed by Riyadh Mohammed, Atheer Kakan, Suadad al-Salhy, Mudhafer al-Husaini, Alissa J. Rubin and Eric Owles from Baghdad; Iraqi employees of The New York Times from Mosul and Samarra; Robert F. Worth from Beirut, Lebanon; Roula Nasrallah from Damascus, Syria; and Michael Slackman from Cairo.



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Where were “their” Shoes 9/11

5 Responses to “In Iraqi’s Shoe-Hurling Protest, Arabs Find a Hero”

  1. no2wars said

    Yes the glory of this moment has spread to reveal the ugly reality that not much has changed after US Occupation. Muntadar has broken ribs, arm and cuts on his face – all which he sustained after being dragged away after the shoe tossing incident.



  2. dorian9 said

    no2wars, i don’t understand. bush has brought freedom to the iraqui people. this man throws a shoe at the face of his liberator? the u.s took saddam hussein out and destroyed all his weapons of mass destruction because he was responsible for 9/11. we know now that that’s not entirely true but that’s okay, we were being patriotic and supported our president and cheney and rumsfeld, right or wrong. that is and was the general american sentiment re. “u.s occupation” (that term sounds subversive to me).
    we can only hope that the new iraqui leader(s) we installed there do not follow the likes of khadafy, noriega, hussein, etc..


  3. obama the antichrist said

    Dorain I totally agree with you. We did a good thing liberating Iraq

    “Mr. Bush deftly ducked and the shoe narrowly missed him. A few seconds later, the journalist tossed his other shoe, again with great force, this time shouting, “This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq!” Again, the shoe sailed over the president’s head.”

    Does this man not know that before the americans came his own people were doing this? Im back…sorta… 🙂


  4. dorian9 said

    OTA! watcha doin? nice to see you here. i come here for current events, reading tothewire and lawman’s choice postings. i’m stopping my newspaper subscription.

    hey, georgie showed some all-american athleticism, eh? good ducking.
    anyway, i’m not for a long term u.s occupation in iraq. i think we did our job there, it’s time for the iraqui gov’t to take the rein. we need to use those billions of dollars to help our own people here dontcha think..


  5. obama the antichrist said

    These bailouts have cost and will cost us more than the war so we could leave and give more money to banks and the big three…i just want a Utopia (impossible i know) where we can live in peace…i dont support these bailouts!! (OH NEW DEBATE TOPIC!!!)


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