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Flying Shoes Create a Hero In Arab World

Video
An Iraqi journalist threw two shoes at President Bush during a news conference Sunday with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The president was not hurt in the incident. Video by AP

In Libya, a charity led by Moammar Gaddafi's daughter Aisha announced it would give Zaidi an award for bravery and urged the Iraqi government to free him. "What he did represents a victory for human rights across the world," said the organization, Wa Attassimou.

"The flying shoe speaks more for Arab public opinion than all the despots/puppets that Bush meets with during his travels in the Middle East," Asad Abu Khalil, a Lebanese American college professor, wrote in his blog, the Angry Arab News Service (http://angryarab.blogspot.com).

A Saudi businessman offered to buy either of the shoes thrown at Bush for $10 million, Saudi television reported.

In Cairo, Egyptians in the middle-class neighborhood of Bulak laughed as they recounted Zaidi throwing his shoes at Bush.

"It was especially gratifying that it happened toward the end of his presidency, because this is how he will be forever remembered," Nermine Gabaly, a 32-year-old homemaker, said with a smile. "The Iraqi reporter should not be penalized for doing this," she added. "He just expressed his emotions as an Iraqi citizen."

During college, Zaidi, whose family is originally from the southern city of Nasiriyah, was the head of the student union. Unmarried, he had a reputation for jumping on stories that took him to the front lines of Iraq's conflict. He declined a promotion because he didn't want to be cooped up inside an office, said his brother Durgham al-Zaidi, a cameraman.

"When we see a family that has experienced tragedy, we look at them as if we had lost one of our own relatives," Durgham said.

On the air, Zaidi referred to the U.S. military presence as "the occupation" and was known to call Bush "the devil." Saif al-Deen al-Kaisi, an editor at al-Baghdadia, recalled a conversation a year and half ago in which Zaidi said, "I hope to meet Bush and hit him with my shoes."

Zaidi opposed a recently signed U.S.-Iraq security agreement that will extend the presence of U.S. troops for at least three years. "Any honest Iraqi patriot rejected the agreement," Maithan al-Zaidi said.

Zaidi had returned to Baghdad two weeks ago after spending two months in Lebanon attending a journalism course, his relatives said. Two hours before the news conference, he spoke to Maithan and made plans to have dinner with him afterward, Maithan said. He added that there was no discussion of throwing shoes at Bush.

After the incident, Iraqi guards wrestled Zaidi, his colleague Waad al-Taie and another journalist to the ground, Taie said. "They beat us and said, 'You are a group of conspirators against this visit,' " he recalled. "I told them: 'I had no idea about all this. He surprised me just as much as you.' " Taie said a U.S. official asked the Iraqis to release him and the other journalist.

"Muntadar has not joined any party or movement," Maithan said. "Nobody paid him to do this. His love for Iraq made him do this."


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