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Iraqi journalist who attacked George W. Bush 'plotted for months'

Article from: Agence France-Presse

By Salam Faraj in Baghdad

December 15, 2008 08:19pm

THE Iraqi journalist who caused a furore when he hurled his shoes at visiting US President George W Bush "detested America" and had been plotting such an attack for months, colleagues said.

Muntazer al-Zaidi, 28, was being hailed as a hero by some after his action against the US President, who ordered the 2003 invasion of Iraq, triggered anti-US demonstrations being staged in Baghdad and the holy Shi'ite city of Najaf.

"This was a spontaneous action by an Iraqi citizen who was showing his dismay at seeing the president of the country which is occupying our nation," said Liwaa Sumeissim from the anti-American Sadr movement.

The Iraqi Government however branded Mr Zaidi's actions as "shameful" and demanded an apology from his employer Al-Baghdadia Television, which in turn was calling for his immediate release from custody.

Mr Zaidi jumped up as Mr Bush was holding a press conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Sunday, shouting "It is the farewell kiss, you dog" before throwing two shoes at the US leader.

Mr Bush ducked and the first shoe hit the American and Iraqi flags behind the two leaders, while the second was off-target.

Mr Zaidi was immediately wrestled to the ground by security guards and frogmarched from the room as he shouted: "You are responsible for the death of thousands of Iraqis."

Al-Baghdadia Television said it "demands that the Iraqi authorities immediately release their stringer Muntazer al-Zaidi in line with the democracy and freedom of expression that the American authorities promised the Iraqi people".

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

One of his colleagues in the Baghdad office of Al-Baghdadia said Mr Zaidi had been planning to throw shoes at Bush if ever he got the chance.

"When he said he was going to do it, we didn't doubt him," he said.

"Muntazer detested America. He detested the US soldiers, he detested Bush," said another co-worker who also spoke on condition of anonymity.

Soles of shoes are considered the ultimate insult in Arab culture. After Saddam Hussein's statue was toppled in Baghdad in April 2003, many onlookers beat the statue's face with their soles.

An Iraqi lawyer said Mr Zaidi risks a minimum of two years in prison if he is prosecuted for insulting a visiting head of state, but could face a 15-year term if he is charged with attempted murder.

In Cairo, Muzhir al-Khafaji, programming director for the television channel, described Mr Zaidi as a "proud Arab and an open-minded man."

"We fear for his safety," he said, adding that Mr Zaidi had been arrested twice before by the Americans.

"We fear that our correspondents in Iraq will be arrested. We have 200 correspondents there."

Mr Khafaji said  Mr Zaidi was a 28-year-old graduate of communications from Baghdad University who had worked for the station for three years.

"He has no ties with the former regime. His family was arrested under Saddam's regime."

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