BAGHDAD, (Reuters) – An Iraqi journalist who hurled his shoes at U.S. President George W. Bush apologised to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki for embarrassing him before the watching world, the Prime minister’s office said on Thursday.
TV reporter Muntazer al-Zaidi shot to instant fame when he called Bush a “dog” in Arabic at a joint news conference with Maliki in Baghdad last Sunday and threw both his shoes at Bush in a gesture that is a deep insult in the Arab world.
“Zaidi said in his letter that his big ugly act cannot be excused,” said Yasin Majeed, Maliki’s media adviser.
Majeed said that Zaidi added: “But I remember in the summer of 2005, I interviewed your Excellency and you told me, ‘Come in, this is your house.’ And so I appeal to your fatherly feelings to forgive me.”
Zaidi’s whereabouts remained unknown four days after he became a hero to those who blame the American president for the tens of thousands of Iraqi deaths that followed the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. His family says he suffered a broken arm and other severe injuries after he was tackled by Iraqi security officers and U.S. Secret Service agents and dragged away struggling and screaming. His family say he is in a hospital in the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad.
Zaidi was brought before an investigatory judge on Tuesday and admitted “aggression against a president,” a crime that could carry a 15-year sentence, judicial officials said. He could face trial soon on the charge.
Zaidi’s ‘David versus Goliath’ act has made him a sensation in the Arab world, where the U.S. invasion of Iraq and Washington’s support for Israel have generated deep animosity toward Bush. Zaidi’s attorney says more than 1,000 lawyers have offered to defend him.
An Egyptian man offered his 20-year-old daughter to Zaidi as a bride and cobblers from Turkey to Lebanon have claimed that the shoes he hurled were made in their factories.
In Iraq, hundreds of marchers have rallied to his cause and demanded he be released. Parliamentary reaction has been divided, and lawmakers clashed this week over whether he should be forgiven.