Iraqi gets 3-year term for throwing shoes

March 13, 2009|By Raheem Salman | Raheem Salman,Los Angeles Times

BAGHDAD - "Long live Iraq," Muntather Zeidi declared in court , according to his lawyers, after a judge sentenced the improbable hero of Iraqi nationalists to three years in prison for hurling his shoes at former President George W. Bush.

Outside the courtroom, his supporters and relatives erupted in jeers over the verdict for the journalist who gained international attention in December when at a news conference in Baghdad he called Bush a dog and lobbed his footwear at him.

"This is an American court. Those are their agents," family members and supporters chanted. "Down, down to Iraqi judiciary. Down, down [Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri] al-Maliki. Zeidi is a hero." Sobbing relatives and his lawyers vowed to appeal the ruling, in a case that appeared to tap patriotic fervor in Iraq six years after the U.S.-led invasion. Many lived vicariously through the oft-televised footage of Zeidi's deed at a Dec. 14 news conference held by al-Maliki with Bush, in his last visit as president.

At the time, Zeidi was hailed across the Middle East by critics of Bush's policies. Some families in places as far flung as Egypt even offered their daughters in marriage to the 30-year-old, a reporter with an Iraqi satellite news channel.

Although a substantial number of Iraqis felt embarrassed by Zeidi's actions, for many his words rang true when he said to the American president: "This is a gift from the Iraqis. This is the farewell kiss, you dog. This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq."

Zeidi's lawyers denounced the verdict as harsh and said they had expected the judges to release the journalist, who had faced up to 15 years imprisonment for assaulting a visiting head of state. Now, they pin their hopes on an appeal.

Zeidi's relatives accused the Iraqi government of hypocrisy. They asked why American security contractors and Iraqi politicians had yet to be tried for alleged crimes while Zeidi faced charges.

"Nobody summoned [guards with the U.S. security firm] Blackwater for what they did to Iraqis. [Parliament member] Mohammed Daini, who is suspected of killing dozens of Iraqis, is in Baghdad now. Why are they not able to detain him? Why do they do this with Muntather Zeidi, " demanded his uncle, Haidar abu Karra.

His family feared Zeidi would be mistreated in prison. They have already accused the government of torturing him.

"There are political reasons behind the sentence," said his brother, Oday.

The courtroom yesterday was packed with more than 200 people. Zeidi's lawyers had read Bush's statement to the media after the incident in December, which described Zeidi's actions as democracy in action.

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