Shoe attack on Bush mars farewell Iraq visit
A journalist hurled two shoes at President George W Bush on his farewell visit to Iraq on Sunday, highlighting hostility still felt toward the outgoing US leader who acknowledged that the war is still not won.SEE VIDEOworld Updated: Dec 16, 2008 09:35 IST
Muntazer al-Zaidi jumped up as Bush held a press conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, shouted "It is the farewell kiss, you dog" and threw his footwear.
The president lowered his head and the first shoe hit the American and Iraqi flags behind the two leaders. The second was off target.
Zaidi, a reporter with the Al-Baghdadia channel which broadcasts from Cairo, was immediately wrestled to the ground by security guards and frogmarched from the room.
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 beat the statue's face with their soles.
Bush laughed off the incident, saying: "It doesn't bother me. If you want the facts, it was a size 10 shoe that he threw".
He later played down the incident. "I don't know what the guy's cause is... I didn't feel the least bit threatened by it."
Bush, on his fourth and final official trip to Iraq since he ordered the March 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam, admitted: "There is still more work to be done."
As he and Maliki signed a security pact setting out new guidelines for US troops in Iraq, the president said: "The war is not over, but with the conclusion of these agreements... it is decisively on its way to being won."Earlier, Bush ventured out in a motorcade through Baghdad streets, the first time he has gone somewhere other than a military base or the heavily protected Green Zone.
Pool reports said the unmarked motorcade passed through darkened streets that appeared heavily guarded, before arriving at Maliki's residence.
Bush hands over the delicate task of overseeing the US withdrawal from Iraq in five weeks to Barack Obama, who has pledged to turn the page on the deeply unpopular war.
"I'm so grateful that I've had a chance to come back to Iraq before my presidency ends," he said at a meeting with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.
In the evening, the president flew by helicopter from the Green Zone to Camp Victory near Bahgdad airport, where he greeted hundreds of US troops under a huge US flag and a gigantic crystal chandelier in the Al Faw palace, formerly used by Saddam.
Bush has staunchly defended the invasion that triggered years of deadly insurgency and sectarian violence that has killed tens of thousands of Iraqis and more than 4,200 American troops.
On Saturday, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited Iraq and said that the US mission was in its "endgame."
The signing ceremony by Bush and Maliki marks the adoption of the Status of Forces Agreement approved by Iraq's parliament in November after months of political wrangling.
The pact will govern the presence of 146,000 US troops at more than 400 bases when their UN mandate expires at the end of the year, giving the Iraqi government veto power over virtually all of their operations.
Gates, who Obama has picked to stay on at the Pentagon in the new administration, told US troops on Saturday: "We are in the process of the drawdown."
"We are, I believe, in terms of the American commitment, in the endgame here in Iraq."
The pact envisages US combat troops leaving Iraq by the end of 2011 and departing from all urban areas by June 30 next year.
But the top US commander in Iraq, General Raymond Odierno, who met with Gates, said that troops will stay in Iraqi cities in a support and training role after June.
The Shiite radical movement of Moqtada Sadr, which strongly opposed the security deal, said Odierno's remarks showed that Washington had no intention of sticking by the deadlines.
"As we predicted, the comments fly in the face of the security agreement," the head of the movement's political bureau, Liwaa Sumeissim, told AFP just before Bush's arrival.
Sadr's movement said it plans a protest on Monday in the holy city of Najaf.
Obama has said he favours "a responsible withdrawal from Iraq" within 16 months of taking office.
While security in Baghdad and other parts of the country has significantly improved, there are still almost daily bomb attacks.
Problems also dog the massive economic reconstruction programme undertaken since the invasion.
The New York Times reported on Sunday that an unpublished US government report concluded that US-led efforts to rebuild Iraq were crippled by bureaucratic turf wars, violence and ignorance of the basic elements of Iraqi society, resulting in a 100-billion-dollar failure.
By mid-2008, the document said, 117 billion dollars had been spent on the reconstruction of Iraq, including about 50 billion in US taxpayer money, the newspaper reported.