BAGHDAD – The newly resigned Iraqi parliament speaker on Wednesday praised the journalist who threw shoes at President George W. Bush and said the legislature should have supported him.
Mahmoud al-Mashhadani's comments came a day after he resigned under heavy pressure from Shiite and Kurdish lawmakers, breaking an impasse that would allow foreign troops, including British forces, to stay in Iraq past Dec. 31.
"He was a zealous, brave journalist and even his enemy Bush said he is brave — only the parliament did not say that he is brave," said al-Mashhadani, who is Sunni. "This is a clear fault. It shouldn't be like that."
The abrasive speaker had frequently quarreled with lawmakers, but tensions came to a head last week during a shouting match over the detention of journalist Muntadhar al-Zeidi.
The speaker's many opponents used the incident as a pretext to force him out.
The journalist, Muntadhar al-Zeidi, is to go on trial Dec. 31 on charges of assaulting a foreign leader. A conviction could bring a prison sentence of up to two years.
Al-Zeidi has been in custody since the Dec. 14 outburst at a news conference with Bush and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The case's investigating judge says the man was struck about the face and eyes, apparently by security agents who helped wrestle him to the ground.
His relatives allege he was beaten more severely and tortured in detention.
One of al-Zeidi's brothers, Uday, said a letter to al-Maliki from the journalist in which he reportedly apologizes and asks for a pardon was written under duress. The prime minister has said that the letter says al-Zeidi was provoked to throw the shoes by an insurgent whom al-Maliki said was a known "throat-slitter."
The case has become a focus for Iraqis and others who resent the U.S. invasion and occupation. Thousands of Iraqis have demonstrated for al-Zeidi's release, but the judge says he does not have the legal option to drop the case.
As pressure grew for al-Mashhadani to step down as speaker, he tried to delay until Jan. 7 a vote on a resolution to allow non-U.S. troops to remain in the country for the first half of 2009 as a way to gain leverage and keep his job.
The U.N. mandate authorizing foreign troops expires Dec. 31 and without the resolution there would have been no legal grounds for them to remain.
But he backed down after opposition lawmakers gathered enough signatures to force a vote against him.
Minutes after parliament approved al-Mashhadani's resignation, it passed the resolution.
American troops can remain until the end of 2011 under a separate security agreement.