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Iraqi Shoe-Thrower Sentenced to Three Years Imprisonment

The attorney for an Iraqi journalist who threw shoes at then-President George W. Bush says his client has been sentenced to three years in prison for assaulting a foreign leader. Video by AP

"I felt the blood of innocent people flow under my feet as he smiled. I felt that he is the killer of my people, and I am one of those people," he said. "I became emotional because he's responsible for what is going on in Iraq, so I hit him with my shoe."

On Thursday, the judge asked if he had anything to add beyond that statement.

"I am innocent," Zaidi said simply. "What I did was a natural response to the occupation."

Prosecutors had said his confession warranted his conviction, but Zaidi and his family maintained that he had been beaten and suffered electrical shocks in detention. Zaidi's lawyers argued that he was only expressing himself, without criminal intent.

"It wasn't a rocket," said Dhia Saadi, the chief defense attorney, who said his client's team would appeal Thursday's decision. "It was a shoe."

For a case filled with such emotion, the arguments in court came down to minutiae. The court rejected the defense's assertion that the charges didn't apply since Bush's visit was unofficial -- he had arrived unannounced. It was not swayed by other arguments that no one was harmed and that the gesture was more insult than assault.

"His motivations were honorable," said Mohammed al-Abboudi, another attorney.

Like Zaidi's other lawyers, Abboudi called the charges "overly severe," and some supporters hoped that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki might eventually pardon him.

"The door is still open," said Aqeel al-Basri, a member of a bloc of parliament members loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr, an anti-American Shiite cleric. "We hope the government will listen and release this young man, who has carried out the ambitions of Iraqis."

The tumult Thursday spilled out of the courthouse and into the streets, where Zaidi's family denounced Maliki and his U.S. allies. His mother, Um Zaman, sobbed as she walked from the courtroom to the entrance of the Green Zone.

"My son, Muntadar. Why did you do it? You've lost three years of your life."

His siblings were angrier, as the crowd and police shoved each other. "Maliki is ready to give his wife to Bush just to keep him happy," said Zaidi's sister, Um Saad.

"Shame on the Iraqi judiciary and its judge!" his brother Uday shouted.

Special correspondent Zaid Sabah contributed to this report.

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