Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at George Bush’s head is given bravery award and hailed as a hero
The Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at George Bush was given a bravery award today by a Libyan charity as he was hailed across the Arab world as a hero.
The group, chaired by leader Muammar Gaddafi’s daughter, also urged the Iraqi government to release Muntazer al-Zaidi after he was arrested yesterday following his outburst.
Mr Bush was sharing a news conference with Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki during a farewell visit to Baghdad, when al-Zaidi, from Cairo-based Al-Baghdadiya TV, slipped off his shoes and flung them at Mr Bush, shouting: ‘This is a goodbye kiss from the Iraqi people, dog! This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq.’
‘Waatassimou group has taken the decision to give Muntazer al-Zaidi the courage award … because what he did represents a victory for human rights across the world,’ the group, headed by Aicha Gaddafi, said in a statement.
The group said the Iraqi authorities should honour the journalist for his actions.
Thousands of Iraqis took to the streets today to demand al-Zaidi’s release who was dragged away by secret service agents after the stunt.
He was taken into custody and interrogated about whether anybody paid him to throw his shoes at Mr Bush but now he is being hailed a hero throughout the Arab world.
‘Al-Zeidi is the man,’ said 42-year-old Jordanian businessman Samer Tabalat. ‘He did what Arab leaders failed to do.’
When asked about the shoe incident shortly afterwards, President Bush made light of it, joking that he thought the shoes were about size ten.
‘It doesn’t bother me,’ he added. ‘It’s like going to a political rally and have people yell at you. It’s a way for people to draw attention.’
Bush smiled uncomfortably and Maliki looked strained in the moments following the attack.
In Iraqi culture, throwing shoes at someone is a sign of contempt.
Other Iraqi journalists apologised on behalf of their colleague.
When Mr Bush met with reporters later aboard Air Force One, he had a joke prepared: ‘I didn’t know what the guy said but I saw his “sole”.’ Later, he said: ‘I’m going to be thinking of shoe jokes for a long time. I haven’t heard any good ones yet.’
At the news conference Mr Bush declared: ‘The war is not over. There is still more work to be done.’
Moving from one battle zone to another, today Mr Bush flew to Afghanistan where he told reporters and President Hamid Karzai that the U.S. would stand by the war-torn country despite a transition of power at the White House.
‘I told the president you can count on the United States. Just like you’ve been able to count on this administration, you will be able to count on the next administration as well,’ Mr Bush told a news conference.
Yesterday he applauded security gains in Iraq and, referring to a security pact paving the way for US troops to withdraw, he said that just two years ago ‘such an agreement seemed impossible.’
‘There is hope in the eyes of Iraq’s young,’ Mr Bush said. ‘This is the future of what we’ve been fighting for.’
Al-Maliki said: ‘Today, Iraq is moving forward in every field.’
For the first time Bush landed in Air Force One at Baghdad International Airport in broad daylight and during the visit he also ventured outside the security of the Green Zone to visit al-Maliki in his palace.
The unannounced visit came just 37 days before Bush gives way to President-elect Barack Obama, who has vowed to end the Iraq war.
‘The work hasn’t been easy but it has been necessary for American security, Iraqi hope and world peace,’ Bush said.
‘I’m just so grateful I had the chance to come back to Iraq before my presidency ends.’
His visit followed the recent signing of a U.S.-Iraq security agreement that requires American forces to withdraw by the end of 2011.
Almost 150,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq fighting a conflict that is intensely unpopular in the United States and across the globe.
More than 4,200 American servicemen and women have died and the war has cost U.S. taxpayers $576 billion (£385 billion) since it began five years and nine months ago.
After landing in Baghdad, Bush began a rapid-fire series of meetings with top Iraqi leaders and thanked U.S. troops.
Bush met first with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and the country’s two vice presidents, Tariq al-Hashemi and Adel Abdul-Mahdi.
‘I’ve known these men for a long time and I’ve come to admire them for their courage and their determination to succeed,’ Bush said.
Talabani called Bush ‘our great friend’ who had ‘helped to liberate’ Iraq.
Later, Bush met Prime Minister al-Maliki for probably the last time in their respective roles.
Bush’s national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, said the new security pact between the U.S. and Iraq was unique in the Arab world because it had been publicly debated, discussed and adopted by an elected parliament.
The brief visit was meant to showcase recent security gains in Iraq but was also a stark reminder of how heavily the war will weigh on the Republican president’s foreign policy legacy.
Today, after Air Force One touched down at Bagram air base outside Kabul, Bush was greeted by hundreds of troops greeted him with raucous cheers as he thanked them for their service.
‘I am confident we will succeed in Afghanistan because our cause is just,’ he told them.
Mr Bush, who has already ordered a troop increase in Afghanistan, appeared to lend tacit support to President-elect Barack Obama’s pledge to increase troop levels even more after he takes office on January 20.
‘I want him to succeed, I want him to do well,’ Mr Bush said of Obama. ‘I’d expect you’ll see more U.S. troops here as quickly as possible in parts of the country that are being challenged by the Taliban.’
Mr Obama has promised to make Afghanistan a higher priority, saying the Bush administration has been too distracted by the unpopular Iraq war to pay Afghanistan the attention it deserves.
But Mr Bush said much progress had been made in Afghanistan since U.S. and Afghan forces toppled the Taliban in 2001 for sheltering al Qaeda leaders behind the Sept. 11 attacks and said dozens of roads, schools and hospitals had been built.
But an Afghan reporter challenged the President, saying the United States had failed to make good on promises to bring security.
‘I respectfully disagree with you,’ Mr Bush replied. ‘I just cited the progress. It’s undeniable. I never said the Taliban was eliminated, I said they were removed from power. They are lethal and they are tough.’
Iraq watchers say last year’s surge in U.S. military forces has led to improved security in the country.
Last month, attacks fell to the lowest monthly level since the war began in 2003. However, there were at least 55 deaths on Thursday in a suicide bombing in a restaurant.
Mr Bush said in a recent interview with an American TV network that the ‘biggest regret’ of his presidency was flawed intelligence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
He used that intelligence as a key justification for going to war, but no such weapons were found.
Mr Obama has promised to bring all U.S. combat troops back home from Iraq a little over a year into his term, as long as commanders agree a withdrawal would not endanger American personnel or Iraq’s security.
It’s expected the incoming Democratic administration will shift troops from Iraq to Afghanistan, where a resurgent Taliban is causing problems for coalition forces.
Commanders in Afghanistan want at least 20,000 more personnel to bolster their ranks and improve security, but cannot get them unless some leave Iraq.