- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 16, 2009

BAGHDAD | The Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at President George W. Bush was released Tuesday after nine months in prison, and in a defiant address he accused Iraqi security forces of torturing him with beatings, whippings and electric shocks.

Muntadhar al-Zeidi’s stunning act of protest in December made him a hero for many in the Arab and Muslim worlds, where many blamed Mr. Bush for the bloodshed in Iraq. Protesters waving shoes became a popular symbol in anti-American protests in the months afterward.

But there was little public outpouring for support for Mr. al-Zeidi after his release, possibly reflecting a cooling of passions now that President Obama is in office and American troops have pulled back from Iraq’s cities in preparation to withdraw fully by the end of 2011.

After his release, Mr. al-Zeidi was unrepentant, telling reporters that while he is now free, his country is still “held captive” by U.S. occupation.

“Simply put, what incited me toward confrontation is the oppression that fell upon my people and how the occupation wanted to humiliate my homeland by placing it under its boots,” he said, wearing a scarf in the colors of the Iraqi flag draped around his neck.

His protest came on Mr. Bush’s final visit to Iraq as president, on Dec. 14. At a news conference, Mr. al-Zeidi shot up from his chair and hurled his shoes toward Mr. Bush at the podium, shouting, “This is your farewell kiss, you dog!” He also said, “This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq.”

Mr. Bush, who ducked twice to avoid being hit, was not hurt. Mr. al-Zeidi was wrestled to the ground by journalists and security men. The protest was a deep embarrassment to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who was standing beside Mr. Bush.

Mr. al-Zeidi was convicted of assault in March. His three-year prison sentence was reduced to one because he had no criminal record before the shoe-throwing incident. He was released three months early for good behavior.

Mr. al-Zeidi said Tuesday that he was abused immediately after his arrest and the following day. He said he was beaten with iron bars, whipped with cords and was subjected to electric shocks in the backyard of the building in the Green Zone, where the news conference was held.

“In the morning, I was left in the cold weather after they splashed me with water,” he told reporters at the offices of Al-Baghdadiya, the TV station where he works and where he was taken immediately after his release.

He said he now feared for his life and believed that U.S. intelligence agents would chase after him and “try to kill and liquidate me either physically, socially or professionally.”

Mr. al-Zeidi was reunited with close family at the TV station, then left in a three-car convoy headed to an undisclosed destination, where he was expected to meet with other relatives. At the family’s home, Mr. al-Zeidi’s brother Uday said the reporter will travel Thursday to Greece for medical checkups and because he had concerns about his safety in Iraq.

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