Protest … Iraqi journalist Muntazer al-Zaidi prepares to throw his shoe at President Bush / AP
From correspondents in Baghdad
AN Iraqi journalist hurled his shoes and an insult at George W. Bush, without hitting him, as the US President was shaking hands with the Iraqi Prime Minister at his Baghdad office today.
As the two leaders met in Nuri al-Maliki’s private office, a journalist sitting in the third row jumped up, shouting: “It is the farewell kiss, you dog”, and threw his shoes one after the other towards Mr Bush.
Mr Maliki made a protective gesture towards the US president, who ducked and was not hit. The journalist, Muntazer al-Zaidi from Al-Baghdadia channel which broadcasts from Cairo, was frogmarched from the room by security staff, a witness said.
Bush ducks an incoming shoe with a big grin on his face like it’s a game of dodgeball. / AP
It was not immediately clear where Mr al-Zaidi was taken. Some news.com.au readers have pointed out that anyone who had done the same to Iraq’s former leader Saddam Hussein would have been harshly dealt with.
Demonstrators chant slogans as they hold up shoes during a protest against the detention of Iraqi TV reporter Muntazer al-Zaidi in Mosul, 390 km (240 miles) north of Baghdad, December 16, 2008. Zaidi called visiting U.S. President George W. Bush a “dog” in Arabic on Sunday and threw his shoes at him during a news conference in Baghdad. REUTERS/Stringer (IRAQ)
Soles of shoes are considered the ultimate insult in Arab culture. After Saddam Hussein’s statue was toppled in Baghdad in April 2003, many onlookers beat the statue’s face with their soles.
Some Iraqi journalists stood up to apologise. Mr Bush said: “Thanks for apologising on behalf of the Iraqi people. It doesn’t bother me. If you want the facts, it was a size 10 shoe that he threw.”
Playing down the incident, the president later said: “I don’t know what the guy’s cause is… I didn’t feel the least bit threatened by it.”
The White House said Mr Bush ducked to avoid the first shoe, while the second narrowly missed the president.
American troop withdrawal
Before the shoes were thrown, Mr Bush and Mr Maliki signed a security accord which calls for American troops to withdraw into their bases by June 30, 2010 and to leave Iraq altogether by by the end of 2011.
The agreement had been the cause of fierce debate in the Iraqi parliament and is seen by some as the Iraqi’s pushing the Americans out. The pact will govern the presence of 146,000 US troops stationed in more than 400 bases when their UN mandate expires at the end of the year, giving the Iraqi government veto power over virtually all of their operations.
The two leaders, in a symbolic ceremony, added their names to the accord which was officially signed on November 17 by Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari and US ambassador Ryan Crocker.
The signing was held at Mr Maliki’s private office in the highly-fortified Green Zone of central Baghdad that houses the Iraqi Government and US and British embassies.
Despite agreeing to withdraw American troops, Mr Bush said there was “still more work to be done” in Iraq. “The war is not over, but with the conclusion of these agreements… it is decisively on its way to being won,” the President said.
Iraqis hold up signs as they protest against yesterday’s visit by US President George W. Bush and the arrest of an Iraqi journalist in the eastern Baghdad district of Sadr City on December 15, 2008. An Iraqi television station, Al-Baghdadia channel which broadcasts from Cairo, today demanded the immediate release of one of its journalists Muntazer al-Zaidi who caused a furore when he hurled shoes at visiting US President George W. Bush last night during a joint press conference with Iraqi Premier Nuri al-Maliki in Baghdad. Bush was on a surprise farewell visit to Iraq. Getty/AFP
Mr Bush’s trip comes five weeks before he hands over the delicate task of overseeing the US withdrawal from Iraq to his successor Barack Obama. “I’m so grateful that I’ve had a chance to come back to Iraq before my presidency ends,” he said.
Before meeting with Mr Maliki, Mr Bush was driven in a motorcade for several minutes around Baghdad streets, the first time in four visits he has gone somewhere in Iraq other than a military base or the Green Zone.
Australian troops to go
Contingency plans are also being prepared to end Australia’s military presence in Iraq within a fortnight unless a new legal accord can be hammered out by December 31.
A failure to conclude a status of forces agreement with Baghdad in the next few days would dictate the immediate departure of Australian defence personnel embedded with coalition forces inside Iraq, The Australian reports.
It would also force the redeployment of HMAS Parramatta away from the northern Arabian Gulf, where it helps guard Iraq’s offshore oil terminals.
“At this stage, the balance of probability is that it (a new agreement) won’t come off,” a senior Australian Government official said last night of the delicate negotiations that were under way in Baghdad.
Bush Shoe Incident in Iraq – CNN