Why did Iraqi journalist hurl shoes at President Bush?

Why did Iraqi journalist hurl shoes at President Bush?

President Bush’s valedictory visit to Iraq will perhaps be remembered for the unscripted moment
when at a joint press briefing in Baghdad on 14h December, an Iraqi journalist, Muntadar al-Zaidi (28), a correspondent for Al Baghdadia, an independent Iraqi station, stood up about 3.5 metres (12 feet) from President Bush and hurled one shoe (size 10) at him shouting in Arabic: “This is a gift from Iraqis: This is the farewell kiss, you dog.”

President Bush was able to duck and narrowly avoided any injury. As stunned security agents and guards, officials and journalists watched, Zaidi threw his other shoe, again shouting in Arabic: “This is from windows, the orphans, and those who were killed in Iraq”. That shoe also narrowly missed Bush as Prime Minister Nour al-Maliki stuck a hand in front of the president’s face to shield him.

Dan Perino, the White House Press Secretary was reportedly distraught and NBC News reported that she had been struck in the face by a microphone in the chaos.

The incident unnerved the entourage of the President partly because it was televised and would be watched by viewers around the world (in Bangladesh many cable TV stations have shown it) In Dhaka it became the “talk of the town” among diplomats and people.

Hitting someone with a shoe in Arabian culture is considered the supreme insult to an person. In the past crowds hurled shoes at the giant statue of Saddam Hussein that once stood in Firdaus Square in Baghdad before the US marines helped to pull it down on April 9, 2003.

Why did he insult the President?

There are many reasons and some of them deserve mention below:

Where and which way is Iraq going? Iraqis ask themselves every day. Many people are angered and distressed to witness that the war in Iraq has created havoc for innocent people in the country.

It is reported that at least 300,000 Iraqi died due to war. Tens of thousands are wounded. A female war victim in Baghdad said that the real experience of war was not the shelling and bombing. The real war what happened afterwards, the years of suffering hopelessly with a disabled husband and no money or struggling to rebuild when all property had been destroyed.

About 5 million Iraqis have been displaced by the war. Two million or more are in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. Facing increasing poverty, says the report, and one refugee agency estimates that about 100,000 Iraqis flee the country.

The millions of Iraqi refugees in the region remain stranded, jobless and deprived of essential services, while the Iraqi government and the US administration have failed in their responsibilities and are ill prepared to cope with a refugee crisis, according to a report of International Crisis Group.

With little to lose and nothing to look forward to, many Iraqis have become radicalized and more violent crime, which already has reached worrying levels in Iraq. The Iraqis are experiencing worse than they had during the regime of Saddam Hussein. Electricity is hardly there and basic amenities are being deprived.

Ethnic and sectarian groups have raised massive militias after the war. Sectarianism appears to be a totally new game in the Arab World, and is different from the conflict between the radical Arab nationalists and the conservative pan-Islamists of the late 50s and 60s.

.When Iraq and Iran fought eight years of war no one thought of it a war between Sunnis and Shia’s. Sectarianism has spread to Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. A new tension is unfolding in the region between Shi’ia states, such as Iran, and Iraq and Sunni states, such as, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan.

Furthermore, Iraqi Kurds in the north no more fly Iraq’s flag but their own Kurdish banner on public buildings, the first steps to the disintegration of Iraq. As a sign of independence from Baghdad, leaders of the Kurdish north want to enter into separate oil agreement with foreign companies and the move has annoyed the Iraqi government.

A growing number of Iraq experts believe disintegration of Iraq could be inevitable in the long run, while others say that a confederal Iraq might emerge. Many suggest a plan to carve the country into three regions– Kurdish in the north, Sunnis in the middle and Shiites in the south. Both the north and south regions are oil-rich while the middle is bereft of such resources.

Many strategists say that the dissolution of Iraq will be a great boon for security of Israel. Zionists at the beginning of the 20th century wanted to create many small states and un-threatening Arab States. If Iraq’s disintegration takes place, their wishes would eventually be fulfilled.

If small states are carved out on the basis of sects, the whole Arab world would be at risk and a new map of small and weak states would emerge and the unity in the Arab world would be fragile.

Michael Hudson, a Professor of Arab Studies at Georgetown University in Washington reportedly has stated that “What we are seeing now may be signs of things to come, but that was not so much inevitable as it is a result of our action.”

All these distressing facts and developments must have been in the thinking process of Zaidi, the Iraqi journalist and when he met face to face with President Bush, he could not resist in hurling shoes at him with abusive words.
His action found resonance with many Iraqis and that is why thousands of Iraqis staged a protest in Baghdad on 15th December, calling for the release of a journalist who was arrested for hurling his shoes at Bush.

Meanwhile it is reported that Zaidi has been beaten by the Iraqi law enforcing agencies while in custody because his action has been a visible “slap on the face” of the Iraqi government that wanted to show to President Bush that Iraqi people are grateful to him for the US-led invasion in Iraq.

By Barrister Harun ur Rashid
Former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.

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