Bush Ducks Shoes Thrown in Iraq, Continues to Afghanistan
Monday, December 15, 2008
BAGHDAD, Dec. 15 -- Arriving here on Sunday for a surprise farewell visit, President Bush staunchly defended a war that has taken far more time, money and lives than anticipated, but he received a taste of local resentment toward his policies when an Iraqi journalist hurled two shoes at him at a news conference.
Hours later, Bush made another unannounced stop, landing before dawn Monday in Afghanistan for a meeting with President Hamid Karzai at his Kabul palace.
In Iraq, Bush said the conflict "has not been easy" but was necessary for U.S. security, Iraqi stability and "world peace." He hailed a recently signed but still controversial security pact as a sign of impending victory.
"There is still more work to be done. The war is not over," Bush said, with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki next to him. "But with the conclusion of this agreement . . . it is decidedly on its way to being won."
Just after Bush finished his remarks and said "Thank you" in Arabic, an Iraqi journalist took off his shoes and threw them at Bush, one after the other.
Throwing a shoe at someone is considered the worst possible insult in Iraq and is meant to show extreme disrespect and contempt. When U.S. forces helped topple a statue of Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein after rolling into Baghdad in April 2003, jubilant Iraqis beat the statue's face with their shoes.
"This is a farewell kiss!" the man, identified as Muntadar al-Zaidi, a reporter with the Cairo-based al-Baghdadia television network, yelled in Arabic as he threw the first shoe. Bush, about 12 feet away, ducked and narrowly missed being hit. When Zaidi threw again, Maliki reached out his hand to shield the president.
Zaidi yelled "Dog, dog!" as he was surrounded by Iraqi security officers, who tackled him and began to beat him. Zaidi was later removed from the ornate room in the heavily fortified Green Zone where the news conference was taking place.
Bush was not injured and joked about the incident minutes later: "If you want the facts, it's a size 10 shoe that he threw. Thank you for your concern; do not worry about it."
Zaidi, colleagues said, was kidnapped by Shiite militiamen last year and was later released.
Bush's fourth and presumably final visit as president to Iraq was intended to highlight improving security conditions in the war-torn country. After spending about 7 1/2 hours here, he departed on Air Force One near midnight.
During the flight to Bagram Air Base, Bush joked about the "bizarre" shoe-throwing incident but also said he did not think the episode indicated broader resentment among Iraqis. "I don't think you can take one guy and say this represents a broad movement in Iraq," he said.