Thousands of Iraqis have taken to the streets to demand the release of a reporter who threw his shoes at President George Bush.
Arabs across the Middle East hailed the journalist a hero and praised his insult as a proper send-off to the unpopular U.S. president.
Muntadhar al-Zeidi, who was kidnapped by Shiite militants last year, was being held by Iraqi security today and interrogated about whether anybody paid him to protest during the press conference.He was also being tested for alcohol and drugs, and his shoes were being held as evidence.
Showing the sole of your shoe to someone in the Arab world is a sign of extreme disrespect, and throwing your shoes is even worse.
In Baghdad’s Shiite slum of Sadr City, thousands of supporters of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr burned American flags to protest against Bush and called for the release of al-Zeidi.
“Bush, Bush, listen well – Two shoes on your head,” the protesters chanted in unison.
Newspapers across the Arab world printed front-page photos of Bush ducking the flying shoes and satellite TV stations repeatedly aired the incident, which provided fodder for jokes and was hailed by the president’s many critics in the region.
“Iraq considers Sunday as the international day for shoes,” said a text message circulating around the Saudi capital Riyadh.
Many users of the popular internet networking site Facebook posted the video of the incident to their profile pages, showing al-Zeidi leap from his chair as Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki were about to shake hands.
“This is a farewell kiss, you dog,” al-Zeidi yelled in Arabic as he threw his shoes. “This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq.”
Al-Zeidi was immediately wrestled to the ground by Iraqi security guards. The incident raised fears of a security lapse in the heavily guarded Green Zone where the press conference took place. Reporters were repeatedly searched and asked to show identification before entering and while inside the compound, which houses al-Maliki’s office and the U S Embassy.
Al-Zeid’s tirade was echoed by Arabs across the Middle East who are fed up with U.S. policy in the region and still angry over Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003 to topple Saddam Hussein.
Abdel-Bari Atwan, editor of the influential London-based newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi, wrote on the newspaper’s website that the incident was “a proper goodbye for a war criminal.”
The response to the incident by Arabs in the street was ecstatic.
“Al-Zeidi is the man,” said 42-year-old Jordanian businessman Samer Tabalat. “He did what Arab leaders failed to do.”
Ghazi Abu Baker, a 55-year-old shopkeeper in the West Bank town of Jenin said, “This journalist should be elected president of Iraq for what he has done.”
Hoping to capitalise on this sentiment, al-Zeidi’s TV station, Al-Baghdadia, repeatedly aired pleas to release the reporter Monday, while showing footage of explosions and playing background music that denounced the US in Iraq.
“We have all been mobilised to work on releasing him, and all the organisations around the world are with us,” said Abdel-Hameed al-Sayeh, the manager of Al-Baghdadia in Cairo, where the station is based.
Al-Jazeera television interviewed Saddam’s former chief lawyer Khalil al-Dulaimi, who offered to defend al-Zeidi, calling him a “hero.”
In Najaf, a Shiite holy city, some protesters threw their shoes at an American patrol as it passed by. Witnesses said the American troops did not respond to the protesters and continued on their patrol.
Al-Zeidi, who is in his late 20s, was kidnapped by Shiite militias on Nov. 16, 2007, and released three days later. His station said no ransom was paid and refused to discuss the case.
Violence in Iraq has declined significantly over the past year, but daily attacks continue to occur. The truck bomb that killed five police officers Monday also wounded 13 others, said Iraqi police.
Hours earlier north of Baghdad, a female suicide bomber knocked on the front door of the home of the leader of a local volunteer Sunni militia and blew herself up, killing him, said Iraqi police.
The police officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to talk to the press.