- The Washington Times - Monday, September 14, 2009

BAGHDAD | The family of the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at President George W. Bush is preparing a festive welcome for the TV reporter, who is to be released from prison Monday after nine months behind bars.

At his family’s home in Baghdad on Sunday, relatives of Muntadhar al-Zeidi were already celebrating, waving Iraqi flags and hanging balloons and posters of the reporter on the walls.

Al-Zeidi, 30, a little-known reporter for a small Iraqi TV station, became an icon for many in the Arab world in a single moment in December. As Mr. Bush and Iraq’s prime minister addressed a news conference, the reporter jumped from his seat and hurled his shoes at the American president.

Mr. Bush was unhurt but forced to duck. Al-Zeidi shouted at him in Arabic, “This is your farewell kiss, you dog! This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq.”

Many throughout the Middle East felt the protest reflected their own frustration and bitterness over the war in Iraq and the U.S. occupation. His act was widely celebrated and even inspired Internet games and T-shirts and led some to try to offer their daughters to him in marriage.

Al-Zeidi’s family says he might use his newfound celebrity status to promote humanitarian causes such as the rights of orphans and women.

His employer, Al-Baghdadiya TV, expects he will return to work as a television reporter for the station, though some have questioned how he would be able to work again as a journalist in Iraq.

His actions deeply embarrassed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and many officials in his government would be likely to blacklist the reporter.

In March, al-Zeidi was convicted of assault. His three-year prison sentence was reduced to one because he had no prior record and now he is to be released three months early for good behavior.

The family hung posters showing al-Zeidi’s face in front of an Iraqi flag and the words: “Release the one who regained Iraqis’ dignity.”

The family is expected to meet him at the gates of a prison in central Baghdad on Monday. Parties and music are planned at his family’s home later in the day.

His family is worried about his safety and will try to keep celebrations small because of security concerns, his brother Dargham said.

In 2007, al-Zeidi, a Shi’ite, was kidnapped by gunmen while on an assignment in a Sunni district of north Baghdad. He was freed unharmed three days later after Iraqi television stations broadcast appeals for his release.

Then in January 2008, he was arrested by U.S. soldiers who searched his apartment building and released him the next day with an apology.

Those experiences helped mold his resentment of the U.S. military’s presence in Iraq, according to his family.

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