By Aseel Kami
BAGHDAD, April 7 (Reuters) - An Iraqi reporter who was jailed for hurling his shoes at former U.S. President George W. Bush has had his sentence slashed to one year from three, the Iraqi Judiciary Council said on Tuesday.
Muntazer al-Zaidi, 30, shot to instant global fame in December when he threw his shoes at the visiting president, who was deeply unpopular in Iraq because of the 2003 U.S. invasion and the years of insurgency and sectarian carnage it unleashed.
He had pleaded not guilty to the charge of assaulting a visiting head of state and his family were devastated at what they called an excessive initial penalty of three years in prison. The shoes missed Bush, who ducked nimbly.
"The appeal court issued its decision today to decrease the sentence against Muntazer al-Zaidi from three years in prison to one year, taking into consideration that he’s still young and doesn’t have any previous convictions," said Abdul Sattar al-Birqdar, spokesman for the Iraqi judicial council.
"Thank God, today we found out the Iraqi judiciary is so strong in Iraq, after we were so afraid. Of course, I am happy," said Zaidi’s brother, Haithem.
The government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who was standing next to Bush at the news conference and tried to block one of the shoes, called the incident a "barbaric act".
At the start of his trial in February, Zaidi said Bush’s smile as he talked about achievements in Iraq had made him think of "the killing of more than a million Iraqis, the disrespect for the sanctity of mosques and houses, the rapes of women".
In what will be remembered as one of the defining moments of Bush’s military adventure in Iraq, Zaidi removed his shoes and hurled them one by one at Bush, shouting: "This is a goodbye kiss from the Iraqi people, dog."
In the Middle East, hitting someone with a shoe is considered an insult. In Iraq, a year’s prison sentence is actually 10 months, so Zaidi, who has been in custody for four months, has six left to go. (Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Michael Christie and Mark Trevelyan)