December 17, 2008 in Nation/World

Shoe tosser faces series of Baghdad hearings

Journalist becoming folk hero for assault on visiting Bush
By ROBERT H. REID Associated Press
 
The Spokesman-Review photo

Al-Zeidi
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

BAGHDAD – The Iraqi journalist who hurled his shoes at President George W. Bush was expected to appear before a judge today in the first step of a complex legal process that could end in a criminal trial, a government official and the reporter’s brother said.

Muntadhar al-Zeidi has been in custody since Sunday, when he gained folk hero status across the Arab world by throwing both shoes at Bush during a news conference. Bush ducked twice and was not injured.

Despite widespread sympathy for his act across the region, Iraqi authorities sent the case to the Central Criminal Court of Iraq, which handles security and terrorism cases.

An investigative judge will review the evidence and decide whether al-Zeidi should stand trial – a process that could take months. Iraq officials have recommended charging him with insulting a foreign leader, a charge which carries a maximum sentence of two years imprisonment or a small fine.

But investigative judges have sweeping powers under Iraqi law to amend and add charges – or even dismiss the case. If the judge finds enough evidence to warrant prosecution, a judicial panel will appoint three judges to hear the case and set a trial date.

Shiite lawmaker Bahaa al-Araji said he expected al-Zeidi, who’s in his late 20s, to be released on bail in the next few days while the investigative judge considers the case.

Al-Baghdadia television, his employer, said al-Zeidi would be represented by Dhiaa Saadi, head of the Iraqi lawyers’ association.

The head of Jordan’s Bar Association, Saleh Armouti, said scores of lawyers have volunteered to help defend al-Zeidi. The association is dominated by hard-line Muslims and leftists critical of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

The government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who was standing beside Bush when the shoe attack occurred, issued no statement about how it planned to pursue the case.

Al-Zeidi’s brother, Maitham, said he spoke with the reporter by telephone Tuesday and was told that he expected to be in court this morning.

Maitham al-Zeidi also said his brother sounded fit, despite claims by another brother that he had suffered a severe beating after being grabbed by Iraqi security at the Sunday press conference.

Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf also denied reports that al-Zeidi had been badly injured.

“The rumors about al-Zeidi being injured or being hurt are baseless,” Khalaf told the AP. “You can check that when you see him in the criminal court tomorrow morning.”

In Washington, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said it was up to Iraqi leaders to decide whether punishment is appropriate for al-Zeidi.

Many Iraqis believe al-Zeidi was a hero for insulting an American president widely blamed for the chaos that has engulfed their country since the U.S.-led invasion of 2003.

In Mosul, Iraq’s third-largest city, located north of Baghdad, an estimated 1,000 protesters carried banners and chanted slogans on Tuesday demanding al-Zeidi’s release.

A few hundred more also protested in Nasiriyah, a Shiite city about 200 miles southeast of Baghdad, and in Fallujah, a Sunni area west of the capital.

In Baghdad, Noureddin al-Hiyali, a lawmaker of the main Sunni bloc in parliament, defended al-Zeidi’s actions and said he believed the reporter was likely motivated by the invasion of Iraq, the “dismantling of the Iraqi government, destroying the infrastructure” – all events he blamed on the Bush administration.

© Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email