BAGHDAD (Reuters) - An Iraqi reporter who hurled his shoes at George W. Bush said in the past he had videotaped himself practicing the Arab insult to use against the president whose “icy smile” had filled him with uncontrollable rage.
Muntazer al-Zaidi said on Thursday at the start of his trial in Baghdad on charges of assaulting a foreign leader that he took a recording of his shoe-throwing training two years ago and had hoped to accost Bush in Jordan but this did not take place.
Zaidi, who was hailed across the Middle East by critics of the Iraq invasion and who also called Bush a “dog,” told the court he had acknowledged making a training film under interrogation after his arrest at a Baghdad news conference.
“I said this before the guards of the prime minister after I was beaten and after my body was devoured by electricity,” said Zaidi, who added that his original plan had been to throw the shoes at Bush during a news conference in Amman.
But Zaidi, whose unusual protest overshadowed Bush’s final visit to Iraq in December, insisted he had not planned to attack Bush this time.
Instead, he 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 the mosques and houses, the rapes of women,” and enraged him.
“He was talking and at the same time smiling icily at the (Iraqi) prime minister. He said to the prime minister that he was going to have dinner with him,” Zaidi told a three-judge panel, a small army of 25 defense lawyers lined up next to him.
“Suddenly I saw no one in the room but Bush. I felt the blood of innocents was running under his feet while he was smiling coldly as if he had come to write off Iraq with a farewell meal.”
Zaidi added: “After more than a million Iraqis killed, after all the economic and social destruction ... I felt that this person is the killer of the people, the prime murderer. I was enraged and threw my shoes at him.”
At the time, Zaidi shouted at Bush that the shoe-throwing was a “goodbye kiss from the Iraqi people, dog.”
The trial had barely begun at Iraq’s Central Criminal Court in the heavily fortified Green Zone before the judges postponed proceedings until March 12 so it could be determined if Bush was truly on an “official” visit to Iraq as a head of state.
When Zaidi appeared in court, family members waiting for him ululated wildly and draped an Iraqi flag across his shoulders.
Zaidi, 30, who faces up to 15 years in prison, has been detained for more than two months.
The reporter for an Iraqi television station based in Cairo became a hero in much of the Middle East and his protest was played by television stations around the world.
Bush, whose support of Israel and decision to invade Iraq in 2003 to oust Saddam Hussein made him passionately disliked in the region, nimbly ducked out of the way of the first shoe and made light of the incident.
The second shoe also missed the American president.
The invasion plunged Iraq into six years of sectarian warfare and insurgency that killed tens of thousands of Iraqis.
Although some in Iraq condemned Zaidi for disrespectful behavior, the incident resonated among many ordinary Iraqis.
Haider Ahmed, a government employee, called Zaidi a patriot. “He allowed us to hold our heads high,” he said.
Zaidi’s lawyers lost an appeal to have the charges reduced to insulting Bush. They argued he could not have hurt Bush with a shoe.
Zaidi himself said he could not be charged with assaulting a visiting head of state when that leader was also the chief of an occupation force. “How can he be a guest in an area that they themselves run?” he said.
“I did not intend to kill U.S. President Bush. But I wanted to express what is inside of me and what is inside all Iraqis, from north to south and east to west, the hatred we have for this man.”
Additional reporting by Aseel Kami; Writing by Missy Ryan; Editing by Michael Christie and Peter Millership