Today, it’s all about the shoes.
In an incident that has gotten more coverage than the Iraqi parliament’s passing of the security agreement, U.S. president George W. Bush showed off an agility not often seen, in ducking to miss two shoes thrown at him by an Iraqi television journalist at a press conference in Baghdad.
Sudarsan Raghavan and Dan Eggen of the Washington Post summed it up by saying that, on his final presidential visit to Iraq, the president “received a taste of local resentment toward his policies ,” and included a four-photo spread of the near-miss on page one(left).
The best and most thorough description of the event was written by the New York Times’ Steven Lee Myers and Alissa J. Rubin.
The drama unfolded shortly after Mr. Bush appeared at a news conference in Baghdad with Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to highlight the newly adopted security agreement between the United States and Iraq. The agreement includes a commitment to withdraw all American forces by the end of 2011.Andrea Stone of USA Today gives some ink to the signing of the security agreement which also occurred .
The Iraqi journalist, Muntader al-Zaidi, 28, a correspondent for Al Baghdadia, an independent Iraqi television station, stood up about 12 feet from Mr. Bush and shouted in Arabic: “This is a gift from the Iraqis; this is the farewell kiss, you dog!” He then threw a shoe at Mr. Bush, who ducked and narrowly avoided it.
As stunned security agents and guards, officials and journalists watched, Mr. Zaidi then threw his other shoe, shouting in Arabic, “This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq!” That shoe also narrowly missed Mr. Bush as Prime Minister Maliki stuck a hand in front of the president’s face to help shield him.
Mr. Maliki’s security agents jumped on the man, wrestled him to the floor and hustled him out of the room. They kicked him and beat him until “he was crying like a woman,” said Mohammed Taher, a reporter for Afaq, a television station owned by the Dawa Party, which is led by Mr. Maliki. Mr. Zaidi was then detained on unspecified charges.
Other Iraqi journalists in the front row apologized to Mr. Bush, who was uninjured and tried to brush off the incident by making a joke. “All I can report is it is a size 10,” he said, continuing to take questions and noting the apologies. He also called the incident a sign of democracy, saying, “That’s what people do in a free society, draw attention to themselves,” as the man’s screaming could be heard outside.
But the moment clearly unnerved Mr. Maliki’s aides and some of the Americans in Mr. Bush’s entourage, partly because it was televised and may have revealed a security lapse in the so-called Green Zone, the most heavily secured part of Baghdad. In the chaos, Dana M. Perino, the White House press secretary, who was visibly distraught, was struck in the eye by a microphone stand.
The agreement is "a reminder of our friendship and as a way forward to help the Iraqi people realize the blessings of a free society," Bush said after meeting with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and two vice presidents. "The work hasn't been easy, but it has been necessary for American security, Iraqi hope and world peace."After Iraq, Bush zipped over to Afghanistan and gave an early-morning press-conference there, prompting the AP headline “Afghan reporters keep shoes on during Bush news conference”.
The security agreement calls for U.S. combat forces to leave Iraqi cities by June 30. All American troops would be out by the end of 2011.
The deal allows both sides to renegotiate if violence, at its lowest level since the war began in 2003, returns. Saturday, the top U.S. commander here, Gen. Raymond Odierno, left wiggle room for a continued U.S. presence in urban areas after next summer, saying troops will remain as mentors and trainers at Iraqi security stations.
The reason could be that the article was already finished, and the shoes were thrown so late, but still, John D. McKinnon, Yochi J. Dreazen and Gina Chon of the Wall Street Journal still probably deserve some kudus for their restraint in only allotting one paragraph to the shoe-throwing. It wasn’t the most fun to read, but journalistic austerity has its place.
The Christian Science Monitor’s Jane Arraf reports on the shoe incident some from Mosul, but then turns the focus on the still-embattled northern city, and the upcoming provincial elections.
The act is an Arab symbol of contempt, much like when Iraqis hit Hussein's statue with their shoes after the US invasion.In Other News
While Bush's visit was intended to mark gains made across Iraq – and there have been plenty over the past year – in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul the forces unleashed by toppling Saddam Hussein are still persistent and apparent.
Roadside bomb attacks still occur almost every day and businesses are just beginning to reopen after US and Iraqi forces wrestled the worst parts of the city from insurgents earlier this year. Some areas of Mosul still look like a war zone.
Mosul, Iraq's second or third largest city, depending on who is counting, has perhaps the most diverse ethnic mix in the country. Believed to have a slight Sunni Arab majority, the city also has a large Kurdish population, significant numbers of Christians, and almost every other minority.
Provincial elections in January are likely to be the first since the war began in which former Baathists, some of whom have returned under the Iraqi government's reconciliation policy, will participate in political life. It's a volatile mix and one in which US forces have been sometimes the catalyst for violence and sometimes the glue that holds the city's fractures together.
Elisabeth Bumiller of the New York Times reports from Balad that the top American commander in Iraq said Saturday that some soldiers would remain in a support role in cities beyond summer 2009, when a new security agreement calls for the removal of American combat troops from urban areas.
“We believe that’s part of our transition teams,” he told reporters in Balad while accompanying Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who arrived on an unannounced trip Saturday.
General Odierno declined to say how many American troops might remain in Iraqi cities past the summer and said the number still remained to be negotiated with the Iraqi government under the terms of the so-called status of forces agreement. “But what I would say is we’ll maintain our very close partnership with the Iraqi security forces throughout Iraq even after the summer.”“So anyone who thought that the upcoming months might present opportunities to ‘test’ the new president would be sorely mistaken,” Mr. Gates said. “President Obama and his national security team, myself included, will be ready to defend the interests of the United States and our friends and allies from the moment he takes office on Jan. 20.”
Later on Saturday, a spokesman for General Odierno, Lt. Col. James Hutton, reiterated that the soldiers staying in cities would not be combat forces but rather “enablers,” who would provide services like medical care, air traffic control and helicopter support that the Iraqis cannot perform themselves. He said that all their actions would be closely coordinated with the Iraqi government and that all tenets of the security agreement would be followed.
Mr. Gates met with General Odierno for an hour and then was scheduled to return to Washington. Before the meeting, Mr. Gates held a question-and-answer session with American soldiers and repeated the Bush administration’s pledge to the Iraqi government of a complete troop withdrawal by the end of 2011. ...Mr. Gates came to Baghdad from Manama, Bahrain, where he warned that foreign powers should not try to “test” President-elect Barack Obama with a crisis in his first months in office. He said the new administration would be committed to security in the Gulf and criticized Iran as trying to destabilize the region. “The president-elect and his team are under no illusions about Iran’s behavior and what Iran has been doing in the region and apparently is doing with weapons programs,” he said. Mr. Gates, who was speaking at a conference on regional security, said that Mr. Obama and his advisers had done more extensive planning across the government for the transition than any other incoming administration he could remember and asserted that they would therefore be prepared from their first day in office. Mr. Gates, who is staying on as defense secretary, has worked for seven presidents; Mr. Obama will be his eighth.