Bush Wraps up War Zone Visits Marred by Shoe Incident
On Sunday, President Bush met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki then spoke to reporters about the drop in violence in the country and highlighted the recent U.S.-Iraq security agreement, which set up conditions for U.S. troops to withdraw from Iraq by the end of 2011.
Mr. Bush said “the war is not over,” but that “it is decisively on its way to being won,” the Associated Press reported.
During the press conference, Muntadar al-Zeidi, a reporter from an Iraqi-owned television station based in Cairo, Egypt, threw his shoes from close range at Mr. Bush, and yelled, “This is a farewell kiss, you dog!” in Arabic.
The president ducked the shoes and was not injured. In Iraqi culture, throwing shoes at a person is a sign of contempt.
Mr. Bush later joked about the incident and his ducking skills with reporters.
“I didn’t know what the guy said, but I saw his sole,” he told reporters. “You were more concerned than I was. I was watching your faces.”
He also said he did not think the action was representative of the country’s sentiment.
“You can take one guy throwing shoes and say this represents a broad movement in Iraq,” the president said. “You can try to do that if you want but I don’t think that would be accurate.”
Several people descended on al-Zeidi immediately after he threw the shoes, wrestling him to the ground. It took a minute or two for security agents to clear the crowd and start hauling him out. As they dragged him off, he was moaning and screaming as if in pain. Later, a large blood trail could be seen on the carpet where he was dragged out of the room.
He was taken into custody and reportedly was being held for questioning by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s guards and is being tested for alcohol and drugs.
President Bush was in Afghanistan on Monday where he spoke to U.S. soldiers and Marines at a hangar on the tarmac at Bagram Air Base. The rally for over a thousand military personnel took place in the dark, cold pre-dawn hours. Bush was greeted by loud cheers from the troops.
“Afghanistan is a dramatically different country than it was eight years ago,” he said. “We are making hopeful gains.”
The trip comes just 37 days before the President-elect Barack Obama will be sworn in as president and take over control of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Obama has pledged to end the war in Iraq.
Afghanistan has seen a rise in violence this year, and President-elect Obama has spoken about the need to send more troops to the country.
The president said during his appearance that the fight against the Taliban would continue.
“They can hide, but we can stay on the hunt,” Mr. Bush said. “We will keep the pressure on them, because it’s in the peaceful people of Afghanistan’s interest just like it’s in the interest of this country.
In a meeting with Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai in Kabul, Mr. Bush told the leader, “You can count on the United States. Just like you’ve been able to count on this administration, you’ll be able to count on the next administration as well.”
Meanwhile, in Baghdad’s Sadr City supporters of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called for protests against Mr. Bush and demanded the release of the reporter.
Thousands took to the streets Monday, chanting, “Bush, Bush, listen well: Two shoes on your head.”
The Iraqi government has condemned the reporter’s actions and demanded an on-air apology from Al-Baghdadia television, the Iraqi-owned station that employs Muntadar al-Zeidi.
Other Arab journalists and commentators, fed up with U.S. policy in the Middle East and Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003 to topple Saddam, echoed al-Zeidi’s sentiments Monday. Abdel-Bari Atwan, editor of the influential London-based newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi, wrote on the newspaper’s Web site that the incident was “a proper goodbye for a war criminal.”
The mixed reactions to Bush in both countries emphasized the uncertain situations Mr. Bush is leaving behind in the region.
Nearly 150,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq, protecting the fragile democracy. More than 4,209 members of the U.S. military have died and $576 billion has been spent since the war began five years and nine months ago.
In Afghanistan, there are about 31,000 U.S. troops and commanders have called for up to 20,000 more. The fight is especially difficult in southern Afghanistan, a stronghold of the Taliban where violence has risen sharply this year.