US President George W. Bush wrapped up a whirlwind trip to two war zones yesterday that in many ways was a victory lap without a clear victory. A signature event occurred when an Iraqi reporter hurled two shoes at Bush, declaring: “This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq.”
Bush visited the Iraqi capital just 37 days before he leaves office. The president wanted to highlight a drop in violence and celebrate a recent US-Iraq security agreement, which calls for US troops to withdraw from Iraq by the end of 2011.
“The war is not over,” Bush said, but “it is decisively on its way to being won.”
Bush then traveled to Afghanistan, where he spoke to US soldiers and Marines at a hangar on the tarmac at Bagram Air Base. The rally for over a thousand military personnel took place in the dark, cold pre-dawn hours. Bush was greeted by loud cheers from the troops.
“Afghanistan is a dramatically different country than it was eight years ago,” he said. “We are making hopeful gains.”
But the president’s message on progress in the region had trouble competing with the videotaped image of the angry Iraqi who hurled his shoes at Bush in a near-miss, shouting in Arabic: “This is your farewell kiss, you dog!”
The reporter, Muntadar al-Zeidi, is a correspondent for al-Baghdadia television, an Iraqi-owned station based in Cairo, Egypt.
Reaction in Iraq was swift but mixed, with some condemning the act and others applauding it. News stations throughout Iraq repeatedly showed footage of the incident.
In Baghdad’s Sadr City, supporters of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr called for protests against Bush and demanded the release of the reporter, who was jailed after throwing his shoes.
Thousands took to the streets, chanting: “Bush, Bush, listen well: Two shoes on your head.”
The Iraqi government condemned the act and called for an on-air apology from al-Baghdadia.
The reporter was reportedly being held for questioning by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s guards and was being tested for alcohol and drugs.
Bush later flew to Kabul to meet Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
After their meeting, Bush said he told Karzai: “You can count on the United States. Just like you’ve been able to count on this administration, you’ll be able to count on the next administration as well.”
Bush was flying to Washington in the early hours yesterday.
After the shoe-throwing incident, White House press secretary Dana Perino suffered an eye injury when she was hit in the face with a microphone during the melee.
Bush brushed off the incident.
“So what if a guy threw his shoe at me?” he asked.