President Bush looked slightly bemused after he ducked to avoid a shoe hurled at him. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki looked mortified, and as the assailant’s second shoe came flying Sunday, he did what any gracious host would do: reached out and tried to catch it before it hit his American guest.
Maliki missed, but so did the shoe, landing like the first one with a loud thud against the wall behind the two leaders, who held their ground as other journalists and security officials at a news conference wrestled the shoe-thrower to the ground. Later, Iraqi journalists identified him as Muntather Zaidi, a correspondent for Baghdadiya, a satellite TV channel that broadcasts from Cairo.
Colleagues said Zaidi has done extensive reporting from Baghdad’s Sadr City district, the stronghold of anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada Sadr, and was rescued by Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia after being abducted by an unidentified group in November 2007.
Zaidi was one of several Iraqi journalists attending the Sunday evening news conference in Baghdad’s heavily secured Green Zone. His outburst came without warning as Bush and Maliki prepared to answer questions.
The first shoe flew over the heads of other journalists and might have hit Bush square in the face had he not ducked to avoid it.
“This is a gift from the Iraqis. This is the farewell kiss, you dog,” the man said, according to a pool translation.
Seconds later, the journalist hurled his other shoe with similar precision as another Iraqi journalist reached over in an attempt to stop him.
“This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq,” he said, according to the translation.
Maliki flung his arm in front of Bush’s face, his hand outstretched like a baseball player reaching for a line drive in an attempt to block the flying object as it sailed over Bush’s head.
After being pinned to the ground, the shoe-thrower was dragged out by security guards. Officials from Baghdadiya refused to comment.
White House Press Secretary Dana Perino reported suffering a minor eye injury during the melee.
Bush played down the incident.
“All I can report is it is a size 10,” he said jokingly.
“So what if a guy threw his shoe at me,” the president added, dismissing it as “one way to gain attention.”
Times special correspondents in Baghdad contributed to this report.