Two-shoe salute for Bush at farewell visit
Not one but two shoes thrown at the president of the most powerful nation on earth! I will never forget those two or three seconds as those leather shoes — size 10s according to U.S.President George W. Bush — spun through the air, missing the president’s head by inches.
At news conferences in the Middle East, it is common for some less professional and obsequious journalists to leap up and sing the praises of a dignitary at the podium. But when Baghdadiya television journalist Muntather al-Zaidi lurched forward and threw the first shoe, I and everyone else in the room was stunned. There was silence, broken only by the shoe thrower calling Bush a dog. And then another shoe flew, and pandemonium broke loose.
Hitting someone with your shoes is possibly the worst insult in the Middle East. The second worst is probably calling someone a dog. Bush got both.
U.S. and Iraqi security men leapt at the journalist, who yelped and shouted as he was dragged into another room. Bush jokingly said the shoes were size 10s, and a visibly embarrassed Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said the shoe thrower was an immature man not worthy of respect.
But for many in Iraq, devastated by years of bloodshed following Bush’s decision to invade in 2003, and for others around the world annoyed by one of the least popular U.S. presidents, Zaidi may be seen as a hero.
Bush and Maliki resumed the news conference after the incident, and answered questions about a recent security pact hailed as a milestone in improving ties between the United States and Iraq — the shoe-thrower’s shouts from another room audible as they spoke.
Bush went on to describe Iraq as having taken an “important step on the road toward an Iraq that can sustain itself, govern itself and defend itself”.
At least one Iraqi on that road will have to walk barefoot for a while — if and when he is allowed to go free.
(Reuters photo: President Bush ducks as a shoe is thrown/Kevin Lamarque)