Muntazer al-Zaidi: the shoe-thrower of Baghdad | world | Hindustan Times
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Muntazer al-Zaidi: the shoe-thrower of Baghdad

world Updated: Dec 16, 2008 00:47 IST
Saddam lawyer to defend Bush shoe attacker

Muntazer al-Zaidi, the Iraqi journalist who shot to instant fame for throwing his shoes at US President George W. Bush, had long dreamt of a dramatic gesture to symbolise his opposition to the war that brought death and destruction to his country.

It was also an expression of flagrant Arab contempt that succeeded in hijacking the limelight of what should have been a sober farewell by the US president who ordered the invasion of the country more than five years ago.

Zaidi, 29, a journalist with the independent Iraqi television station Al-Baghdadia based in Egypt, hurled his footwear on Sunday at Bush during a joint news conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Although both shoes missed the target, Zaidi captured the world's attention with an act colleagues said he had plotted for months because he "detested America" and the man who ordered the war on his country.

His simple but devastatingly symbolic act was hailed by many Iraqis, with Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's movement calling him a hero and a Sunni Muslim body labelling him an "icon of the resistance against the occupation."

Soles of shoes are considered the ultimate insult in Arab culture. After Saddam Hussein's statue was toppled in Baghdad in April 2003, many onlookers pelted it with shoes.

The Baghdad government branded the journalist's actions as "shameful" and demanded an apology from Al-Baghdadia. A source in Maliki's office told AFP, without elaborating, that Zaidi was being held by the Iraqi authorities.

Zaidi's boss in Cairo, Muzhir al-Khafaji, described him as a "proud Arab and an open-minded man" who had worked at Al-Baghdadia for three years.

"We fear for his safety," the programming director for the television channel told AFP, demanding his immediate release.

At Sunday's news conference Zaidi jumped up and shouted "It is the farewell kiss, you dog," throwing his shoes at Bush.

They missed after Bush ducked and Zaidi was wrestled to the ground by security guards.

The Baghdad-born Zaidi lives alone in a furnished two-room apartment in the capital on Rashid Road, the city's historic centre.

An AFP journalist who visited the building on Monday said his home contained books on politics and religion in both Arabic and English, as well as a photograph of revolutionary icon Che Guevara.

"He devoted most of his time to Al-Baghdadia which he joined at its launch in September 2005," Zaidi's 32-year-old brother Durgham told AFP.

"He's a rather nervous type, and above all hates violence and the bombing," he added.

"Like everyone in our family he hates the occupation and considers Bush to have destroyed Iraq and killed its people. His actions restore Iraqi dignity."

Zaidi's aunt Umm Zaman, who lives in the same building, described her nephew's deed as the realisation of a long-held wish.

"For a long time he has wanted to hit Bush with a shoe, and at last his dream has come true," she said.

"Muntazer detested America. He detested the US soldiers, he detested Bush," said a colleague at the channel's Baghdad office on condition of anonymity.

Saddam's former lawyer Khalil al-Dulaimi said he was forming a team to defend Zaidi.

"Our defence of Zaidi will be based on the fact that the United States is occupying Iraq, and resistance is legitimate by all means, including shoes," Dulaimi said.