Iraqi Shoe-Thrower Sentenced to Three Years Imprisonment
Friday, March 13, 2009
BAGHDAD, March 12 -- A court convicted an Iraqi journalist who hurled his shoes at President George W. Bush of assaulting a foreign leader and sentenced him to three years in prison Thursday, unleashing bedlam in the courthouse that echoed the emotions the case had inspired across Iraq and the Middle East.
"Long live Iraq!" shouted Muntadar al-Zaidi, the 30-year-old Iraqi television journalist, as the sentence against him was handed down.
Smiling and waving, Zaidi was escorted afterward from the dilapidated courthouse in the Green Zone, where a crowd of family members and supporters had gathered outside the courtroom doors. Shouting, his sister collapsed on the floor in tears, and police hustled two of his brothers out of the building after the verdict was announced.
"You're a hero, Muntadar!" some yelled. "Down with Bush!" others cried.
In a case that bordered on both the farcical and poignant, Zaidi became a folk hero in the Arab world after hurling both shoes, with a mean swing, at Bush during a news conference Dec. 14. Bush nimbly ducked, in what immediately became a lasting image of the war that began when his administration ordered an invasion of Iraq in March 2003.
"This is your farewell kiss, you dog!" Zaidi had shouted as he threw one shoe, then the other. "This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq."
In the days that followed, Zaidi's spectacle became a fixture of almost every conversation in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East. Some were put off by the adulation for Zaidi, deeming the incident embarrassing for Iraq and journalists. Bush was a guest, after all, in a region that prides itself on its hospitality. More common, though, was the way the gesture articulated the deep-seated anger many Arabs feel toward American policies, support for Israel and the U.S. occupation here.
Restaurants were renamed, banners hung and graffiti scrawled across concrete barriers erected to stop attacks that still kill hundreds in Baghdad and elsewhere every month.
A man in Tikrit, ousted president Saddam Hussein's home town, erected a sculpture of the shoe that Iraq's parliament ordered removed, and a Saudi businessman was said to have volunteered $10 million for Zaidi's shoes. A Lebanese channel offered him a job and said that if he accepted, it would retroactively pay him from the day he hurled the shoes.
Zaidi had faced up to 15 years in prison, but his lawyers said the judges decided to show leniency because of his youth and lack of prior convictions.
Escorted by police to the defendant's seat, Zaidi wore the same brown leather shoes and beige suit as he did in the opening court session last month.
Then, he said Bush's "smile with no spirit" had provoked him to act.