The Iraqi who threw shoes at George W Bush is back in the spotlight as protests grip country

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By Mariam Chehab  & Lauren Chadwick
The Iraqi who threw shoes at George W Bush is back in the spotlight as protests grip country
Copyright  REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani

Remember when US President George W Bush had shoes hurled at him during a press conference?

Well, the Iraqi journalist behind the infamous incident more than a decade ago, Muntadhar al-Zaidi, is now a prominent voice on social media for the anti-government protests that have rocked the country in recent weeks.

Al-Zaidi, who also recently stood for the Iraqi parliament, shot to fame after throwing two shoes at Bush on his last visit to Iraq in 2008.

He said "this is a farewell kiss from the Iraqi people, you dog" as Bush stood alongside Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

The reporter, who worked for Al-Baghdadia TV, became a symbol of resistance in his country, which was invaded by US and UK forces in 2003, two years into Bush's presidency. In Tikrit, an artist even built a shoe monument for the journalist, who would spend almost a year in prison for assaulting a visiting head of state.

He is now back in the spotlight as anti-government protests grip the country.

Thousands have been injured and hundreds have died in clashes between security forces and those protesting corruption, unemployment and poor living conditions. Security sources told Reuters this week that they were told to use "all necessary measures" to end the protests.

"Why is the free world staying silent? There are more than 1,200 wounded to date," Al-Zaidi told Euronews.

"[On October 29] in Karbala there were 18 martyrs [dead]," he said, citing numbers that were reported by the Associated Press but later denied by local officials in the town.

"We have not heard any condemnation or clear statement, except for a few sheepish statements from the United Nations and European Union," he told Euronews' Arabic service.

The EU issued a statement in early October calling for the security forces to exercise "restraint" but said this week that the violence was a source of "deep concern" for the EU as "instances of excessive use of violence have occurred".

"The EU is ready to continue to support Iraq in its work to address citizens’ legitimate demands for change," the statement said.

Al-Zaidi told Euronews that the protesters are calling for the fall of the political regime. He also said they do not want other countries interfering in Iraq.

"The government of the American occupation is rejected. This government brought disaster to the country... today, we want the fall of this political regime and the end of this government," he explained.

"We do not hate Iran, we do not hate Saudi Arabia, we do not hate Turkey. But our message is simple: they must stop interfering in our country. The Iraqi people are a free people," he said.

Additional sources • Reuters, AFP