Wed, Dec 17, 2008 - Page 7 News List

Shoe-wielding journalist injured in Iraqi custody

AFP , BAGHDAD

The Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at US President George W. Bush has a broken arm and ribs after being struck by Iraqi security agents, his brother said yesterday.

Muntazer al-Zaidi’s brother, Durgham, was unable to say whether the journalist had sustained the injuries while being overpowered during Sunday’s protest against Bush’s visit or while in custody later.

He said he had been told that his brother was being held by Iraqi forces in the heavily fortified Green Zone compound in central Baghdad where the US embassy and most government offices are housed.

“He has got a broken arm and ribs, and cuts to his eye and arm,” Durgham said.

“He is being held by forces under the command of Muaffaq al-Rubaie,” Iraq’s national security adviser, he said.

Zaidi jumped up during a joint a news conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Sunday, and shouted: “It is the farewell kiss, you dog,” and threw two shoes at the US leader.

The shoes missed after Bush ducked and Zaidi was wrestled to the ground by guards.

Zaidi, 29, a journalist for the private Iraqi television channel Al-Baghdadia, was overpowered by Iraqi security forces after he threw the shoes at Bush in a gesture seen as the supreme mark of disrespect in the Muslim world.

An AFP journalist said that cuts were visible on his face as he was led away into custody.

Bush, who was on a swansong visit to the battleground that came to dominate his eight-year presidency, ducked when the shoes were thrown and later made light of the incident.

Meanwhile, Iraq faced mounting calls on Monday to release the journalist. His action was branded shameful by the government but hailed in the Arab world as an ideal parting gift to an unpopular US president.

Zaidi’s colleagues said he “detested America” and had been plotting such an attack for months against the man who ordered the war on 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 newspaper.

In Washington al-Zaidi was labeled an attention seeker.

“There is no way of knowing what the motivation of the individual was — he was obviously trying to get attention for himself,” State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters.

“This was one incident and one individual’s views, but if you look at the direction we are heading in Iraq now, it’s a very, very positive direction and we hope to see that continue,” he said.

The Iraqi government branded Zaidi’s actions as “shameful” and demanded an apology from his Cairo-based employer, which in turn called for his immediate release from custody.

Al-Baghdadia issued a statement demanding Zaidi’s release “in line with the democracy and freedom of expression that the US authorities promised the Iraqi people.”

“Any measures against Muntazer will be considered the acts of a dictatorial regime,” it added.

Few Iraqis expressed much sympathy for Bush but views on the journalist’s actions were mixed.

Baghdad shopkeeper Hamza Mahdi, 30, was critical.

“I don’t like Bush, but I don’t agree with this action — it’s not civilized,” he said. “Journalists should use pen and paper to make their point and not their shoes.”

One of his customers, Um Seif, 45, disagreed.

“Me, I support him. Everyone should support him,” she said. “Don’t you remember what the Americans did to us? Have you already forgotten?”

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