Media News

Rival cobblers claim credit for shoes hurled at Bush

BAGHDAD, Dec 17 (Reuters) - Call it product placement. Across the Middle East, rival shoemakers have claimed it was they who created the footwear flung at U.S. President George W. Bush by an angry Iraqi and immortalised by TV cameras.

For many, reporter Muntazer al-Zaidi is a hero for the attack on Bush, and some of the glory seems to have rubbed off on the shoes that almost connected with the presidential head.

Suggestions have been made that they came from cobblers in Turkey or Lebanon -- or, like most of the shoes in Iraq, are Chinese-made. But on Wednesday, the brother of Zaidi dismissed such reports:

“One hundred percent they are Iraqi-made shoes,” Udai al-Zaidi told Reuters. “His shoes are not Chinese, nor Turkish.”

Udai said they came from the Baghdad factory of Iraqi shoemaker Alaa Haddad, viewed as among the country’s best.

Turkish newspaper Yeni Safak reported Turkish businessman Ramazan Baydan had made the shoes and carried a front page picture of the design, alongside the headline “Made in Turkey.”

Baydan said he had designed the style in 1999, and orders from Iraq had increased by 100 percent since the Bush incident.

“If it had hit Bush’s head it wouldn’t have hurt him,” he said of his shoe, apparently referring to the softness of the leather.

The Lebanese newspaper as-Safir bore a frontpage photo showing Zaidi during a visit to Beirut in November with an accompanying headline: “Did he buy the shoes in Beirut?”

Zaidi’s gesture was a grave insult in the Arab world. The television reporter was expressing outrage over the years of sectarian bloodshed unleashed by the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

He was seized at the scene and on Tuesday admitted “aggression against a president” before an investigatory judge.

Zaidi may be tried on charges that could carry a 15-year prison term, said a spokesman for Iraq’s High Judicial Council.

His precise whereabouts on Wednesday remained murky. His family says he suffered a broken arm and other injuries in the chaotic scenes that followed the shoe-throwing, and was in a hospital in the heavily fortified government Green Zone.

More than 1,000 lawyers have offered to defend him, said his attorney, Dhiaa al-Saadi, head of the Iraqi lawyer’s association. Support for Zaidi continued to flow in from around the region on Wednesday.

A senior Iranian cleric, who is supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s representative in Syria, praised him for a “very important and historic” act, according to Iran’s official IRNA news agency.

“Up until the (Islamic) revolution (in Iran) America bullied as it wished and no one thought there would come a day when a reporter would throw a shoe at the president of the world’s superpower,” Hosseini said in a mosque in Syria. (Additional reporting by Alexandra Hudson in Istanbul and Fredrik Dahl in Tehran; writing by Michael Christie; editing by Andrew Roche)