BAGHDAD – Thousands of Iraqis took to the streets Monday to demand the release of a reporter who threw his shoes at President George W. Bush in anger at U.S. policies, as support for the act and the journalist flowed in from across the Arab world.
The protests came as homicide bombers and gunmen targeted Iraqi police, plus U.S.-allied Sunni guards and civilians, in a series of attacks Monday that killed at least 17 people and wounded more than a dozen others, officials said.
The journalist, Muntadhar al-Zeidi, was being held by Iraqi security Monday and interrogated about whether anybody had paid him to throw his shoes at Bush during a press conference Sunday in Baghdad, said an Iraqi official.
He was also being tested for alcohol and drugs, and his shoes were being held as evidence, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
Showing the sole of your shoe to someone in the Arab world is a sign of extreme disrespect, and throwing your shoes is even worse. Iraqis whacked a statue of Saddam with their shoes after U.S. Marines toppled it to the ground after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
Al-Zeidi was immediately wrestled to the ground after throwing the shoes, by Iraqi security guards. But the incident raised fears of a security lapse in the heavily guarded Green Zone where the press conference took place. Reporters were repeatedly searched and asked to show identification before entering the compound, which houses al-Maliki's office and the U.S. Embassy.
Meanwhile, newspapers across the Arab world Monday printed front-page photos of Bush ducking the flying shoes, and satellite TV stations repeatedly aired the incident, which was hailed by the president's many critics in the region.
Many are fed up with U.S. policy and still angry over Bush's decision to invade Iraq in 2003 to topple Saddam Hussein.
Wafa Khayat, 48, a doctor in the West Bank town of Nablus, called the attack "a message to Bush and all the U.S. policy makers that they have to stop killing and humiliating people."
In Jordan, a strong U.S. ally, a 42-year-old businessman, Samer Tabalat, praised al-Zeidi as "the man. ... He did what Arab leaders failed to do."
Al-Zeidi's TV station, Al-Baghdadia, repeatedly aired pleas to release the reporter Monday, while showing footage of explosions and playing background music that denounced the U.S. military presence in Iraq.
"We have all been mobilized to work on releasing him," said Abdel-Hameed al-Sayeh, the manager of Al-Baghdadia in Cairo, where the station is based.
Al-Jazeera television interviewed Saddam's former chief lawyer Khalil al-Dulaimi, who offered to defend al-Zeidi, calling him a "hero."
In Baghdad's Shiite slum of Sadr City, thousands of supporters of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr burned American flags to protest against Bush and call for the release of al-Zeidi.
"Bush, Bush, listen well: Two shoes on your head," the protesters chanted.
In Najaf, a Shiite holy city, some protesters threw their shoes at an American patrol as it passed by. Witnesses said the American troops did not respond and continued on their patrol.
Violence in Iraq has declined significantly over the past year but daily attacks continue. A truck bomb killed at least nine police officers Monday and wounded 13 others in Khan Dhari west of Baghdad, said Dr. Omar al-Rawi at the Fallujah hospital, where dead and wounded were taken.
The U.S. military said eight Iraqi police officers were killed and 10 people were wounded in the blast. Conflicting casualty tolls are common in the chaotic aftermath of bombings.
Hours earlier, a female homicide bomber knocked on the front door of the leader of a local chapter of the Sunni volunteer militia north of Baghdad and blew herself up, killing him, said an Iraqi police official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press.
Also Monday, gunmen killed seven people from a single family, members of the minority Yazidi sect, when they stormed into their home in northern Iraq, police said.