President Bush’s hopes for a triumphant last visit to Iraq were thwarted Sunday by a shoe-throwing, epithet-yelling Arab journalist, whose angry gesture showed the same contempt for the American president that Iraqis displayed for dictator Saddam Hussein more than five years ago.
Mr. Bush intended his final trip to Iraq — followed by an overnight flight to Afghanistan — to symbolize gains in Iraq that he and his backers increasingly feel vindicate him on the issue that has defined his presidency and served as the basis for much of the criticism against him.
Instead, the trip took a left turn into the absurd, as an Arab TV journalist stood and hurled his shoes at the president during a press conference, while also shouting curses at him in Arabic.
“This is a gift from the Iraqis, this is the farewell kiss, you dog,” Muntazer al-Zaidi, from the Cairo-based Al-Baghdadia channel, yelled as he threw his first shoe at Mr. Bush from roughly 10 feet away.
The president ducked and narrowly avoided being hit by the shoe, only to see Mr. al-Zaidi winding up to throw his second shoe.
“This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq,” Mr. al-Zaidi yelled before being tackled by security guards and hustled from the room, according to wire service reports.
Throwing shoes is an act of extreme disrespect in the Middle East. When U.S. troops and Iraqis pulled down a statue of dictator Saddam Hussein during the initial U.S. invasion of 2003, a group of Iraqis hit the statue’s head and face with their shoes.
Later, after Mr. Bush had left Iraq and was headed to Afghanistan, he said it was a “bizarre” moment and rejected the idea Mr. al-Zaidi’s anger as a symbol of broader sentiments. “I don’t think you can take one guy and say this represents a broad movement in Iraq,” Mr. Bush said in an interview on board Air Force One with several reporters.
In the moments after the incident, a few Iraqi journalists stood to apologize to Mr. Bush, according to reports from the scene.
“Thanks for apologizing on behalf of the Iraqi people. It doesn’t bother me,” Mr. Bush said, and then cracked a joke that lightened the tense atmosphere in the room.
“If you want the facts, it was a size 10 shoe that he threw,” he said.
Mr. Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki then continued with the press conference, although instead of taking two questions each they both took only one.
In response to a U.S. reporter’s question about the shoe incident, Mr. Bush said he “didn’t feel the least bit threatened by it.”
Mr. Bush’s surprise trip to Iraq was the fourth of his presidency, intended to show the increased stability of the country where his legacy likely will sink or swim in the years to come.View Entire Story
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