Iraq faced mounting calls on Monday to release the journalist who hurled his shoes at George W. Bush, an action branded shameful by the government but hailed by many in the Arab world as an ideal parting gift to the unpopular US president.
Colleagues of Muntazer al-Zaidi, who works for independent Iraqi television station Al-Baghdadia, said he “detested America” and had been plotting such an attack for months against the man who ordered the invasion of his country.
“Throwing the shoes at Bush was the best goodbye kiss ever... it expresses how Iraqis and other Arabs hate Bush,” wrote Musa Barhoumeh, editor of Jordan’s independent Al-Gahd Arabic newspaper.
Hundreds of Iraqis joined anti-US demonstrations to protest at Bush’s farewell visit on Sunday to Iraq, which was plunged into a deadly insurgency and near civil war in the aftermath of the 2003 invasion.
The Iraqi government however branded Zaidi’s actions as “shameful” and demanded an apology from his Cairo-based employer, which in turn was calling for his immediate release from custody.
It is not known where Zaidi is currently being held. “Al-Baghdadia television demands that the Iraqi authorities immediately release their stringer Muntazer al-Zaidi, in line with the democracy and freedom of expression that the American authorities promised the Iraqi people,” it said in a statement.
“Any measures against Muntazer will be considered the acts of a dictatorial regime.”
His colleagues in the Baghdad office of Al-Baghdadia said Zaidi had long been planning to throw shoes at Bush if ever he got the chance.
“Muntazer detested America. He detested the US soldiers, he detested Bush,” said one on condition of anonymity.
Soles of shoes are considered the ultimate insult in Arab culture. After Saddam’s statue was toppled in Baghdad in April 2003, many onlookers beat the statue’s face with their soles.