The Iraqi journalist Muntazer Al Zaidi reviews the latest news on his mobile and applauds that International Justice accuses Russian President Vladimir Putin of war crimes. What he cannot understand is that “the same criteria are not applied to other wars and criminals like George Bush are also persecuted. What happen? Since we don’t have blue eyes we don’t suffer like the Ukrainians? Are we Iraqis fourth-class citizens? The tenant of the White House who launched the invasion of Iraq, which marks two decades tomorrow, has marked the life of this reporter.
On the morning of December 14, 2008, Al Zaidi, then 29 years old, left his home in the Zafraniye neighborhood earlier than usual. It was an important day because Bush was offering a joint press conference with the Prime Minister, Nuri Al Maliki, and it was his job to cover this event for the Baghdadiyah network. The US president was finishing his term and did not want to leave the White House without first visiting Afghanistan and Iraq, the scenes of the two wars that he launched in revenge for the 9/11 attacks.
Al Zaidi had been waiting for this moment for three years and, in addition to his notebook, he took a pair of old shoes that he had kept at home for the occasion and took them to the office in a plastic bag. In those three years he had had time to prepare a will that he recorded on camera and would post on his YouTube channel at the end of the press conference by the President of the United States.
When he got to the office, he put on his old shoes and headed for the Green Zone to get past the security controls and access the Prime Minister’s palace with the rest of his colleagues. «I had waited so long for that moment… but then it was all very fast. I screamed, I threw one shoe at him, then the other, and in a few seconds he was on the ground getting kicked by the security agents,” recalls Al Zaidi as he reviews images of one of the iconic moments of post-war Iraq. His cry was heard around the world: “Take your goodbye kiss from the Iraqi people, dog!” Bush wanted to downplay what happened and limited himself to saying that it was “an action that sought to attract attention.”
The journalist who had the courage to throw his shoes at Bush (an act of utter contempt among Arabs) was beaten by bodyguards and spent six months in jail for “attacking a foreign official,” according to the indictment. “Bush thought that we Iraqis were going to receive him with flowers after the invasion and killing so many people and I reacted this way because he wanted the world to see our anger with this politician. I would have loved to throw another pair of shoes at the head of José María Aznar”, points out Al Zaidi, in relation to the famous image of the Azores, with the tenant of the White House meeting with the former Spanish president and his British counterpart Tony Blair five days before the invasion. The journalist recorded a video in the form of a previous testament because he knew they could kill him, but also because he did not want groups like Al Qaeda in Iraq to try to make this protest action against the US occupation their own.
The images of the US leader skilfully dodging the shoes went around the world and there were demonstrations of solidarity to demand the release of Al Zaidi. They even erected a statue in the shape of a big shoe in Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown. The Republican president’s farewell tour was overshadowed by what was dubbed the “shoe riot.” The journalist had achieved his objective, but the respect in the streets for his action was proportional to the fear of reprisals and once he was released, his channel fired him. Al Zaidi left the country and lived for ten years between Jordan and Lebanon until he decided to return home to run in the 2018 elections, elections in which he denounced that the militias sabotaged his candidacy and burned the votes he had accomplished.
«I am a born opponent and I speak the truth, that is why I have no friends. I oppose the government parties, the militias, the US occupation and Iran’s interference”, he assures surrounded by the closest circle of his friends, in whom he has full confidence. Upon his return to Iraq, he participated on the front line in the protests that broke out in October 2019 to call for the end of the sectarian system and corruption and claims to have suffered seven attacks.
«I live under threat and the most hurtful of all is that the militias accuse me of being a puppet at the service of the United States to destabilize the Government. Me at the service of the Americans? It is these parties and militias who came hand in hand with the occupying force and have governed since 2003 despite the failures and corruption”, thinks this reporter turned politician whose protest against Bush will go down in history.
And the shoes? “They never gave them to me, they told me later that they destroyed them for fear that they had explosives,” replies Al Zaidi, who avenged with his old shoes “the death and destruction caused by this man in my country. A pity that the Hague Tribunal forgets about the Iraqis.”
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