Trial Date Set for Iraq Shoe-Thrower

The Iraqi journalist who threw shoes at then-President George W. Bush will face trial next week on the original charge of assaulting a foreign leader, a judicial official said Sunday.

Muntadhar al-Zeidi, 30, who is considered a hero by many Iraqis for his protest, has been in custody since the Dec. 14 outburst at Bush's joint news conference with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Al-Zeidi had been due to face a trial in December on a charge of assaulting a foreign leader but his defense team won a delay as it sought to reduce the charges to simply insulting Bush.

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But Abdul-Sattar Bayrkdar, spokesman for the Iraqi Higher Judicial Council, told The Associated Press that the charge of assaulting a foreign leader will stand.

He declined to state what potential penalties faced by al-Zeidi if convicted, only saying "it's up to the court." The defense has said the assault charge carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.

Al-Zeidi's brother, Dhargham, said the family had not yet been informed of the court's decision.

He also echoed complaints of relatives and lawyers that they have been denied access to al-Zeidi, saying authorities turned down the family's request to meet with him on Thursday.

"This court works according to orders from the Cabinet," the brother said, expressing fear that the death penalty might be raised as a possibility in the case. "He has been deprived of his simplest rights."

Concern has been raised about al-Zeidi's welfare after allegations that he had been severely beaten and tortured in detention.

The case's investigating judge has said the journalist was struck about the face and eyes, apparently by security agents who wrestled him to the floor after he hurled his shoes, forcing Bush to duck for cover.

One brother who visited al-Zeidi last month said he appeared in good shape and his wounds had healed.

The case became a focus for Iraqis and others in the Muslim world who resent the U.S. invasion and occupation. Thousands demonstrated for al-Zeidi's release and hailed his gesture.

But it also embarrassed al-Maliki, who was standing next to Bush at the time. Neither leader was injured.