- The Washington Times - Friday, February 20, 2009

BAGHDAD | The Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at former President George W. Bush failed to apologize as his trial began Thursday, and instead appealed defiantly to the pride of his war-ravaged country.

In his first public appearance since he was taken into custody Dec. 14, Muntadhar al-Zeidi said he did not intend to harm Mr. Bush or to embarrass Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

“What made me do it was the humiliation Iraq has been subjected to due to the U.S. occupation and the murder of innocent people,” Mr. al-Zeidi said. “I wanted to restore the pride of the Iraqis in any way possible, apart from using weapons.”

The 30-year-old journalist also claimed during his testimony to the three-judge panel that he was tortured while in jail - something the Iraqi government has denied.

Mr. al-Zeidi, who has become a folk hero in Iraq and the rest of Middle East, was greeted by applause and cheers from supporters as he entered the courtroom in western Baghdad. His aunt handed him a scarf imprinted with a red, black and green Iraqi flag, which he kissed and draped around his neck.

The trial was later adjourned until March 12.

Mr. al-Zeidi has been in Iraqi custody since he was wrestled to the floor by guards and dragged away after the Dec. 14 outburst at Mr. Bush’s joint news conference with Mr. al-Maliki in Baghdad.

When he threw the shoes, he shouted at Mr. Bush in Arabic: “This is your farewell kiss, you dog! This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq.”

In his testimony Thursday, Mr. al-Zeidi described his growing frustration as Mr. Bush spoke about his victories and achievements at the news conference - held 37 days before Mr. Bush handed the war off to his successor, Barack Obama, who has pledged to end it.

“I was seeing a whole country in calamity, while Bush was giving a cold and spiritless smile,” Mr. al-Zeidi testified. “He was saying goodbye after causing the death of many Iraqis and economic destruction.”

Mr. al-Zeidi’s attorneys said he has been charged with assaulting a foreign leader, which carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison. Mr. al-Zeidi was originally scheduled to appear in court Dec. 31, but the trial was postponed as the defense unsuccessfully tried to get the charge reduced, arguing that the act didn’t merit such harsh punishment.

The defense said Thursday that Mr. Bush was not on an official visit because he had arrived in Iraq unannounced and without invitation. That would mean the charge of assaulting a foreign leader would not be applicable, according to the defense.

“The visit was not formal because Bush is an occupier and he was received by the commander of the U.S. Army,” one of Mr. al-Zeidi’s attorneys, Ghalib al-Rubaie, said. “President Jalal Talabani and the prime minister did not receive him when he arrived.”

Judge Abdul-Amir al-Rubaie adjourned the trial, saying the court needed time to ask the Iraqi Cabinet whether Mr. Bush’s visit was “formal or informal.” Visits by foreign dignitaries are rarely announced beforehand due to security reasons.

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