BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Muntazer al-Zaidi, the Iraqi reporter who became famous worldwide when he threw his shoes at then U.S. President George W. Bush, is thought likely to get a hero’s welcome if he is freed from jail, as expected, on Monday.
In December 2008 Zaidi’s actions toward Bush during the president’s farewell visit to Baghdad captured many Iraqis’ feelings of resentment following more than six years of bloodshed triggered by the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Condemned by the Iraqi government for his “barbaric act” during the news conference Bush held with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, Zaidi was sentenced to three years in jail for assaulting a visiting head of state. The jail term was later reduced, and Zaidi’s family expects his release on Monday.
Zaidi’s lawyer Dhiaa al-Saadi said he had no word yet on when Zaidi would be freed.
Millions of people across the world have watched Zaidi hurl his shoes at Bush and call the man who started the war in Iraq a “dog,” both great insults in the Middle East.
Venezuela’s anti-American President Hugo Chavez called him courageous; a Libyan group headed by Muammar Gaddafi’s daughter gave him an award for bravery; fathers from other Arab nations have offered Muntazer their daughters as brides.
Zaidi’s arrest triggered demonstrations in Baghdad and Maitham al-Zaidi, Muntazer’s brother, said supporters had already posted banners ahead of his release. He expects a crowd at the Baghdad air base where Muntazer is due to be freed.
Muntazer, working for Cairo-based al-Baghdadiya television, has received offers of support from around the world.
Abdul Hamid al-Saih, a senior official at Baghdadiya, said the channel had bought Muntazer a home in Baghdad. His salary has been paid throughout the jail term, Saih said.
Maitham al-Zaidi said Muntazer had been offered a number of jobs with other Arab media — but was still contemplating his professional future — and had been encouraged by some Iraqi politicians to run in Iraq’s parliamentary elections in January.
“Before his deed, Muntazar al-Zaidi was only a journalist, reporting news. He doesn’t belong to any specific party now — he belongs to Iraq,” Maitham said.
At the start of his trial in February, Zaidi said Bush’s smile as he talked about achievements in Iraq had made him think of “the killing of more than a million Iraqis, the disrespect for the sanctity of mosques and houses, the rapes of women.”
Muntazer’s family says the reporter is suffering medical problems related to beatings he received while in Iraqi custody.