Journalist: 'I threw shoes at Bush in protest against war'

Iraqi tells court he acted out of frustration at ex-president's 'victory' talk
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The Independent Online

The Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at the former US president George Bush remained defiant as his trial opened yesterday, saying he had acted to restore national pride. In his first public appearance since he was taken into custody on 14 December, Muntadhar al-Zeidi said he did not intend to harm Mr Bush or to embarrass the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki. "What made me do it was the humiliation Iraq has been subjected to due to the US occupation and the murder of innocent people," Mr Zeidi said. "I wanted to restore the pride of the Iraqis in any way possible, apart from using weapons."

He also alleged during his testimony to the three-judge panel that he was tortured while in jail – something the Iraqi government has denied.

Mr Zeidi, a 30-year-old journalist, has become a folk hero in Iraq and throughout the Middle East. He was greeted with 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 chief judge then threatened to clear the courtroom if everyone did not calm down.

Mr Zeidi has been in custody since he was wrestled to the ground by guards after theincident at Mr Bush's joint news conference with Mr Maliki in Baghdad last year.

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, Mr Zeidi described his frustration as Mr Bush spoke about his victories and achievements. "I was seeing a whole country in calamity while Bush was giving a cold and spiritless smile," he said. "He was saying goodbye after causing the death of many Iraqis and economic destruction."

Mr Zeidi's lawyers say he has been charged with assaulting a foreign leader, which carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.

The defence argued yesterday 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. "The visit was not formal because Bush is an occupier and he was received by the commander of the US Army," one of Mr Zeidi's lawyers, 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 until 12 March, saying the court needed time to ask the Iraqi cabinet whether Mr Bush's visit was "formal or informal".