BAGHDAD: An Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at US President George W. Bush during a news conference a decade ago is standing for parliament, campaigning against corruption and the sectarianism that has plagued his country.
TV correspondent Muntazer Al-Zaidi became famous across Iraq and the Middle East after throwing his footwear at Bush during a news conference in Baghdad in 2008, shouting “This is a farewell kiss from the Iraqi people, you dog!”
Bush ducked twice as the shoes sailed over his head. Zaidi served six months in prison for assaulting a visiting leader.
Today, Zaidi is standing for parliament as a member of the movement of firebrand Shiite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr, whose militia waged a violent campaign against the US military during its occupation of Iraq, but who has lately redefined himself as an opponent of militant sectarianism.
Sadr and his followers argue that the sectarian and ethnic parties representing Iraq’s Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, dominant since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, have abused their power and looted the state. The Sadrists have formed an unlikely alliance with the Communists and other secular groups.
“The main real purpose and reason behind my nomination is to get rid of the corrupt, and to expel them from our country,” Zaidi said in an interview.
“I was a journalist when I hurled a shoe at Bush. Before that event and I was, and still am, against the occupation and corruption. But the corrupt aren’t listening to people who demand that they give up corruption. So I decided to enter the political process.”
Zaidi said he has made a point of omitting from his posters any images of the shoe-throwing incident that made him famous.
“I refused to have any images of me from that incident used for my election campaign. I rely on the present, what I can bring to Iraqis. I don’t want an emotional (vote), I want people to be convinced (by my policies),” he said.
Zaidi’s shoe-throwing divided opinion in Iraq at the time. Some saw it as sticking up for the country; others as a crude gesture that undermined Iraq’s dignity.
Local residents erected a giant concrete monument of a shoe in Zaidi’s honor outside an orphanage in the city of Tikrit in 2009, but it was taken down a day later by the municipal authorities.
A decade on, reaction to his candidacy in the election this weekend has been similarly mixed.
“I hope he wins. He was jealously protecting his country. What he did was correct: the country was under occupation,” said Mohannad Ibrahim, 26-year-old supermarket cashier in Baghdad.
Journalist Haider Qassem, 41, disagreed. “He is not fit to be a candidate, he is not even fit to be a low-ranking civil servant. He has no manners. A journalist should be cultured. You can’t just throw shoes.”