Iraqi PM's office says shoe-thrower apologizes

BAGHDAD Thu Dec 18, 2008 10:24am EST

1 of 2. President George W. Bush (L) ducks after a man threw a shoe at him during a joint statement with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki (R) in Baghdad, December 14, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

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BAGHDAD (Reuters) - An Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at U.S. President George W. Bush apologized to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki for embarrassing him before the watching world, the prime minister's office said on Thursday.

TV reporter Muntazer al-Zaidi shot to fame when he called Bush a "dog" in Arabic at a joint news conference with Maliki in Baghdad last Sunday and threw both his shoes at Bush, a gesture that is a deep insult in the Arab world.

Yasin Majeed, Maliki's media adviser, said Zaidi sent the prime minister a letter of contrition.

"Zaidi said in his letter that his big ugly act cannot be excused," Majeed said.

He said Zaidi added: "But I remember in the summer of 2005, I interviewed your excellency and you told me, 'Come in, this is your house'. And so I appeal to your fatherly feelings to forgive me."

Zaidi's whereabouts remained unknown four days after he became a hero to those who blame the U.S. president for tens of thousands of Iraqi deaths that followed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

His family says he suffered a broken arm and other injuries after he was tackled by Iraqi security officers and U.S. Secret Service agents who dragged him away struggling and screaming. His family say he is in a hospital in the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad.

One of Zaidi's brothers said he had no information about him but found the idea he sent Maliki an apology unbelievable.

"This information is absolutely not true. This is a lie. Muntazer is my brother and I know him very well. He does not apologize," Udai al-Zaidi said. He added: "But if it happened, I tell you it happened under pressure."

Zaidi was brought before an investigating judge on Tuesday and admitted "aggression against a president," a crime that could incur a 15-year sentence, judicial officials said. He could face trial soon.

Zaidi's David-versus-Goliath act has made him a sensation in the Arab world, where the U.S. invasion of Iraq and Washington's support for Israel have cause deep animosity toward Bush. Zaidi's attorney says more than 1,000 lawyers have offered to defend him.

An Egyptian man offered his 20-year-old daughter to Zaidi as a bride and shoemakers from Turkey to Lebanon have claimed the shoes he threw were made in their factories.

In Iraq, hundreds of marchers have rallied to his cause and demanded his release. Parliamentary reaction has been divided, and MPs clashed this week over whether he should be forgiven.

(Additional reporting by Waleed Ibrahim; Writing by Michael Christie; Editing by Andrew Dobbie)

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