PARIS — A protester who presented himself as an Iraqi journalist in exile hurled a shoe Tuesday at the colleague who one year ago found fame hurling his own footwear at then US president George W. Bush.
Television reporter Muntazer al-Zaidi was in Paris to promote his campaign for the “victims of the US occupation in Iraq” when a fellow Iraqi critic turned the tables on him, shouting: “Here’s another shoe for you.”
The thickset man with an Iraqi accent made a brief speech in Arabic during the question and answer session, defending US policy and accusing Zaidi of “working for dictatorship in Iraq,” before throwing his shoe.
The missile was thrown hard at Zaidi’s head, but he managed to dodge it and it bounced harmlessly off a curtain erected behind the speakers by the event’s hosts, the Foreign Press Welcome Centre in Paris.
Zaidi’s brother grappled with and slapped the man, whom witnesses later described as an asylum-seeker they know only as “Khayat”, before venue staff and bystanders separated them and the aggressor was hustled away.
“When I used this method, it was against the occupation. I did not use it against a compatriot,” Zaidi complained. “I always knew the occupier and his lackeys would stop at nothing to get to me.”
Following the commotion, the news conference continued with Zaidi taking questions about his famous assault on Bush on December 14 last year, which was shown around the world and made him a hero in the Arab world.
Zaidi, a journalist for Iraq’s Al-Baghdadia television, threw his shoes at Bush during the US leader’s final visit to Iraq, protesting the six-year-old occupation with a cry of: “This is the farewell kiss you dog.”
He was seized on the spot by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s bodyguards and alleges he was tortured for three days: beaten with iron bars and chairs, tied up with cables and subjected to a mock drowning.
The 30-year-old member of Iraq’s Shiite majority was jailed for nine months and was flown out of Iraq by his employers shortly after he was freed.
At his appearance in Paris, organised by the Arab Press Club, he said he is staying in Geneva for medical treatment for broken teeth, stomach complaints, fractures and torn back ligaments that he suffered.
After his treatment, he said, he would like to return to Iraq to found a charity to support those he called the “victims of the US occupation” of his country, in particular the widows and orphans left by American attacks.
Zaidi’s shock action was rebroadcast repeatedly around the world and made him an instant hero among Iraqis and others who felt that Arab honour had been violated by the US occupation of Iraq.
Introducing his guest at the packed Paris press conference, the president of the local Arab Press Club, Kamal Tarabay, said Zaidi’s “audacious gesture” made him a “hero of the resistance against the occupier.”
Some of those present applauded him, but several Arab reporters complained that while his protest was legitimate for an activist, a journalist should have behaved more professionally.
Zaidi was unrepentant, insisting that given the opportunity he would do the same again to Bush’s successor, US President Barack Obama “whatever the colour of his skin, his origin or his religion.”
Asked about the huge sums and even offers of marriage made by admirers during his jail term, Zaidi said he had asked his family to refuse all gifts “until I find a way that they can be passed on to the people of Iraq.”
The following video was posted at YouTube by the Associated Press: