Iraqi reporter who threw shoes at Bush says he would do it again

Muntazer Al Zaidi tells The National that his country is ruled by corruption and dysfunction two decades after fall of Saddam Hussein

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The Iraqi man who threw his shoes at former American president George Bush said he would repeat the move, as Iraq marks the 20th anniversary of the US-led invasion.

Iraqi journalist Muntazer Al Zaidi, 48, told The National that his country was ruled by corruption, political dictators, chaos and dysfunction two decades after the fall of former ruler Saddam Hussein.

He was described as a cult hero after he threw his shoes at Mr Bush during a press conference with former Iraqi prime minister Nouri Al Maliki in 2008.

“Yes, I would repeat it, but I’ve already made the message very clear that Bush’s actions and what he did to Iraq and its people is unacceptable,” he told The National.

Al Zaidi spent about nine months in jail after the 2008 incident.

“My point was that Bush lied to the world by saying the Iraqi public would ‘welcome us with flowers’; instead they lied on behalf of the Iraqi public,” he said.

“I wanted to make my point clear that Iraqis welcomed the Americans with shoes,” Al Zaidi said.

In Arab culture, exposing the sole of a shoe to a person is a sign of contempt and disrespect, making the act of throwing shoes even more offensive.

During the press conference, Al Zaidi said as he threw his shoe that “this is a farewell kiss from the Iraqi people, dog”.

“This is for the widows and orphans and all those killed in Iraq,” he said, as he hurled his second shoe.

During the 2018 elections, Al Zaidi ran for office in the hope of becoming an MP. He ran under the list of Sairoon, a defunct political alliance comprising six parties aligned to nationalist cleric Moqtada Al Sadr.

He promised the public he would combat corruption and promote greater integrity, transparency and good governance if elected.

Al Zaidi said Iraqis were “tired of politics”, and pledged to imprison “thief politicians” upon winning a seat in the country's parliament. He failed to win enough votes to secure a seat.

Iraq's elites 'clinging on'

But he insists that today, Iraq can be a strong, democratic and sovereign state without “the influence of external actors who have influenced its policies”, a reference to powerful US and Iranian influence in the country.

He said Iraq's ruling elites were “clinging on to their position in ruling the country”.

Looking to the future, Al Zaidi recalled participating in anti-government protests that called for a change in the political system, replacing sect-based quotas in government with a political order that would work for better public services and employment opportunities.

Mass protests erupted in late 2019 amid public anger over corruption, collapsing public services and spiralling unemployment.

As many as 600 people were killed by security forces at the time, according to Human Rights Watch.

Updated: March 14, 2023, 1:24 PM