Iraqi journalist Muntazer al-Zaidi was thrust into the global spotlight in 2008 after he threw his shoes at then-US President George W. Bush. Two decades after the US-led invasion of Iraq, he says his country is still paying the price.
On the outskirts of Iraq’s capital, Baghdad, the streets don’t have names, trash is not collected and the roads are not maintained.
It’s in this area, in an unassuming brick house, that 48-year-old Muntazer al-Zaidi lives with his wife and daughter.
A small garden separates the dusty road from his home.
Zaidi has been in the global spotlight for more than a decade. His life changed on Dec. 14, 2008, when at a news conference in Baghdad, he hurled his shoes at then-US President George W. Bush.
“This is a farewell kiss from the Iraqi people, you dog,” he yelled in Arabic as he threw his first shoe toward Bush. “This is for the widows and orphans and all those killed in Iraq,” he shouted as he threw his second shoe.
The video was shown on news shows across the world. The relatively unknown Iraqi journalist suddenly became the face of resistance to some, and a troublemaker to others. Now, two decades after the US-led invasion of Iraq, he said that his country is still paying the price.
Following the press conference, Zaidi was arrested. He said he was tortured by the Iraqi security forces while in detention. In recent years, he said he has been shunned by Iraqi news outlets because “they don’t want to be associated with someone who is anti-American.
“Even the ones who say they hate America, they are afraid to confront this fact,” he said.
Zaidi also has a devout following.
Today, 15 years since the press conference, Zaidi’s views about the US have not changed.
“How can I forgive?” he asked. “These people have done these atrocities against my brother, my neighbor, my father, and they haven’t at least apologized, nor [are they] going to trial and they’re still free at large.”
He pointed to Russia’s war in Ukraine, adding that “the whole world now is weeping for Ukraine, but we were under occupation, and no one was even supporting us. Some of them were even supporting the Americans and if they were not, they just kept their mouths shut.”
Zaidi described his action at the press conference as “sort of a scream” or an attempt to draw the world’s attention to his country. He wanted to say not all Iraqis embraced the Americans at the outset of the invasion, as he said it was described by Americans. In fact, many Iraqis were suffering.
On the day of the conference, Zaidi said he picked his dirtiest, oldest shoes. As if to add to the insult.
He said he went in expecting he might be killed. So, he chose his seat carefully, picking the one in the last row. His thinking was if he got shot, no one behind him would be hit.
Zaidi had planned and prepared for a day to show his anger at the US president. In 2005, he made a video stating he is not paid by anyone nor is he affiliated with any groups.
But his anger is not just at the Americans. Iraq, he said, has gone from bad to worse. In 2011, he joined the protests against the Iraqi government.
“The Iraqi government is run by Iran,” he said. “Our politicians are being manipulated by neighboring countries. The Iranian influence, the illiteracy, the corrupt politicians, the media blackout, and corruption are all legacy of the US invasion.”
As for what happened to his shoes, Zaidi said he doesn’t know. He suspects the Americans shredded them so that they would not be made into a symbol by his supporters.
Alaa Mahsoob Mohammed supported the reporting of this story.
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