BAGHDAD – The Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at President George W. Bush says he would do it again and that he was forced to write a letter of apology after being tortured in jail, the journalist's brother claimed Monday.
Muntadhar al-Zeidi's outburst during a Dec. 14 news conference with Bush and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been repeatedly broadcast worldwide, making him a symbol for opponents of the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq. Thousands of Iraqis have rallied to demand his release.
The dispute has touched on the Iraqi parliament, where lawmakers called an emergency closed-door session Monday to try to remove the speaker after a shouting match over the journalist.
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As a result of the dispute, lawmakers on Monday adjourned for the day without voting on a resolution allowing British and other non-American troops to stay through the end of July. Without the resolution, those troops would have no legal ground to remain after a U.N. mandate expires on Dec. 31.
Al-Zeidi's trial on charges of assaulting a foreign leader is scheduled to begin Dec. 31, said Abdul-Sattar Bayrkdar, a spokesman for the Iraqi Higher Judicial Court. A conviction would carry a sentence of up to two years in prison.
The prime minister's office said last week that al-Zeidi had written a letter of apology and asked al-Maliki to recommend a pardon.
Al-Maliki claimed that al-Zeidi wrote that a known terrorist had induced him to throw the shoes.
"He revealed ... that a person provoked him to commit this act and that person is known to us for slitting throats," al-Maliki said, according to the prime minister's Web site. The alleged instigator was not named.
But the journalist's brother, Uday al-Zeidi, told The Associated Press that the letter was written against the journalist's will.
"He told me that he has no regret because of what he did and that he would do it again," Uday al-Zeidi said by telephone.
He said he visited his brother in jail on Sunday and found him with a missing tooth and cigarette burns on his ears. Muntadhar al-Zeidi told his brother that jailers also doused the journalist with cold water while he was naked, Uday al-Zeidi said.
The investigating judge in the case has said that the journalist was beaten around the face and eyes when he was wrestled to the ground after throwing the shoes.
But Uday al-Zeidi claims his brother was severely tortured.
"When I saw him yesterday, there were bruises on his face and body. He told me that they used an iron bar to hit him when they took him out of the press conference room. He told me that he began screaming and thought all those at the press conference would have heard his voice," he told AP Television News.
But Bayrkdar, the court spokesman, said that when the investigating judge took al-Zeidi's statement last week he "did not ask to be checked by a medical committee and did not say that he was tortured during the investigation."
Al-Maliki also said that his government remains "committed to protecting the journalist in performing his professional duty" and guarantees him the right to practice his profession "on condition that he does not violate the dignity of others."
Neither Bush nor al-Maliki have sought charges, but investigating judge Dhia al-Kinani said last week he does not have the legal option to drop the case.
If parliament fails to pass the resolution on non-American foreign troops before a U.N. mandate expires on Dec. 31, they would have no legal grounds to remain.
Britain has already announced it plans to withdraw its 4,000 troops from southern Iraq by the end of May. Australia, El Salvador, Estonia and Romania also have far smaller contingents. U.S. troops can remain in Iraq until the end of 2011 under a separate agreement reached this year.
Al-Mashhadani said he was resigning last week during a shouting match in parliament over the journalist's detention. It was unclear at that time whether al-Mashhadani, a Sunni, truly intended to resign or was exaggerating in the heat of the moment.
But Shiite and Kurdish lawmakers aimed to force the issue on Monday. Two years ago, the Shiite bloc ousted al-Mashhadani after a series of outbursts, but his fellow Sunnis forced them to reinstate him.
"Either he resigns or we vote him down," said Kurdish lawmaker Muhsin al-Saadoun. Together, Kurdish and Shiite blocs hold the necessary majority of seats to fire the speaker.
The rebellious lawmakers indicated they thought al-Mashhadani insulted the legislature last Wednesday when he said: "There is no honor in leading this parliament and I announce my resignation."