The Iraqi journalist who sparked widespread international attention a decade ago when he threw his shoes at former US President George Bush is now pursuing a political career of his own.
Muntazer Al Zaidi is running in Iraq’s forthcoming elections for a parliamentary seat under the list of Sa’eroun, a political alliance formed of six parties, he promises the public to combat corruption and to promote greater integrity, transparency and good governance.
“By running for elections I pledge to ensure that America’s mistakes are amended – their mistakes created a corrupt sectarian government”, Mr Al Zaidi told The National by phone.
Mr Al Zaidi’s bloc is advocating for a democratic pluralistic state that aims to put an end to corruption in government. Iraq, long beset by allegations of corruption at all levels of government, was ranked 166th out of 176 in the 2017 corruption index released by Transparency International, a Germany-based corruption watchdog, in 2017.
“I intend to push for a law that discloses Iraqis' offshore bank accounts as well as their properties”, he said, adding that his party will take further action to open an investigation that “will confiscate all their fortune for the benefit of the Iraqi treasury”.
Mr Al Zaidi will compete against nearly 7,000 candidates for 329 seats in the general election on May 12 – the first since 2014 and Iraq's fourth since 2003.
“I’m calling for an end to this era”, he said.
Mr Al Zaidi promises to work on establishing a secular government that is free from religious policies. He says previous administrations have only succeeded in creating wars, conflict and sectarian divisions.
The shoe-thrower-turned-politician says he does not have any affiliation with neighboring countries, political parties or religious movements, something that he believes will aid his quest to end political corruption in Baghdad.
“I will not be bribed and will not be subdued by corrupters”, he said.
The 39-year old was working as a correspondent for Al Baghdadia, an independent Iraqi news organization, when he threw his shoes at Mr Bush during a 2008 press conference with former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki in Baghdad.
The former US President – who launched the invasion of Iraq in 2003 to remove alleged weapons of mass destruction that never surfaced – ducked as the shoes sailed past his head.
Security guards bundled Mr Al Zaidi to the ground and he was swiftly removed from the room where the American leader was speaking.
He shouted “you killed the Iraqis” as security officials pinned him to the ground.
He was sentenced to three years in prison for the act, which was reduced to 12 months. He was subsequently released after nine months.
“I am no hero, I acted as an Iraqi who witnessed the pain and bloodshed of many innocents”, he said.
The journalist called the shoe throwing “a traditional insult in Arab culture”. The message of the act is the targeted person holds a status below that of shoes. “It was a farewell kiss to the man who invaded my country”, he said.
Since his release from prison, he has spent much of his time outside of Iraq in Beirut, Lebanon, but returned nearly two months ago to take part in elections.
The next elected Iraqi parliament will face the daunting task of rebuilding the country after a three-year war with ISIS and a battle against entrenched corruption that is eating away at its oil revenue.
But Mr Al Zaidi is not hoping to gain public support for the incident, he only wants to serve those who have suffered years of occupation and conflict.
“For the past ten years I have been supporting the oppressed and to stand against the oppressors”, he said. “I have been fighting for the poor and disadvantaged and will continue to do so”.