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Patrick Cockburn: An act born from the burning hatred of foreign occupation

Mr Zaidi's words demonstrate how occupation provokes instability and violence

The image of an Iraqi journalist hurling his shoes at President George Bush at a press conference will be remembered long after the war in Iraq is over. It is right that this should be so because the shoe-throwing by the Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zaidi dramatically underlines the detestation most Iraqis feel towards foreign occupation.

This should be an obvious point, but is not. Most Iraqis were glad to see the end of Saddam Hussein, who had ruined their country. But the occupation was always unpopular outside Iraqi Kurdistan, which was never occupied. "The occupation was the mother of all mistakes," says Iraqi Foreign Minister Hishyar Zebari, usually seen as one of the most pro-American politicians in the country.

It is hatred of the occupation, which shines through Mr Zaidi's intelligent and revealing speech made yesterday after his release from jail. It is the voice of outraged Iraqi nationalism. He said: "I travelled through my burning land and saw with my own eyes the pains of the victims, and heard with my own ears the scream of the bereaved and the orphans."

Not surprisingly Mr Zaidi's action and his cry – "this is a gift from the Iraqis; this is the farewell kiss, you dog" – turned him into an instant hero across the Muslim world and beyond. Mr Bush was so unpopular in the final weeks of his presidency that any act against him was likely to be applauded.

Mr Zaidi's furious words yesterday demonstrate the extent to which the occupation of a country by foreign powers, be it Iraq or Afghanistan, itself provokes instability and violence. The occupiers will be blamed, usually rightly, for anything that goes wrong. Mr Zaidi still sees Iraq as being controlled by the US.

The freed journalist spoke bitterly yesterday of having been tortured while in custody. He said he was beaten with cables and metal tubes in a room not far from the press conference where he mounted his assault on Mr Bush. He was also given electric shocks, he said.

Unfortunately, his allegations are all too likely to be true, since torturing suspects is once again the norm in Baghdad.