Bush shoe-thrower back in the dock

The trial of the Iraqi journalist who hurled his shoes at former United States president George Bush, and so gained instant folk-hero status in much of the Arab world, is due to resume this morning after a three-week hiatus.

Muntadher al-Zeidi (30) made a brief appearance in court in February to face a charge of aggression against a foreign head of state.

But judges adjourned the case after just 90 minutes, saying they needed time to decide whether the then-president Bush had been on an official state visit or not.

Under a Saddam-era law, he could face up to 15 years in prison if found guilty.

If they determine that the farewell visit of Bush to Iraq last December was not official, lawyer’s say al-Zeidi could face lesser charges of assault, which carry a maximum five-year sentences.

The trial will take place inside Baghdad’s Green Zone at the central criminal court, which is normally reserved for terrorist cases.

Several Iraqi politicians attended the first session of the trial, seeing it as a test of the country’s post-Saddam judiciary.

In the first session, al-Zeidi, draped in an Iraqi flag, told the court how his anger had boiled over as he watched Bush “smiling that icy smile” as the former president stood next to the Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki and spoke of progress in Iraq since 2003 and having dinner together.

“I thought about what the achievements were—killing about a million Iraqis,” al-Zeidi said. “I saw only Bush and it was like something black in my eyes,” he said from the dock.

So he took off his shoes and chucked both of them at Bush, who ducked behind a lectern.

The gesture is considered an insult in the Muslim world.

The journalist also shouted at Bush. “It is the farewell kiss, you dog,” he said before security guards then wrestled him to the ground.

Some Iraqi officials regard the journalists’ actions as an insult to the Iraqi state.

“If he gets a prison sentence today, it will not be out of any sympathy for Bush, but because he insulted the legally elected prime minister, who was Bush’s host,” one said last night.

Al-Zeidi has also come in for criticism from fellow Iraqi journalists who said he had let his emotions overcome his professionalism.

Many ordinary Iraqis say, however, that al-Zeidi, who has been in detention since December 14, has already served his punishment and should be released.

Dhiya al-Saadi, the chief of al-Zeidi’s 25-strong defence team, told The Guardian this week that they would argue that the journalists actions amounted to freedom of speech—which is protected in the Constitution—and that the charges against him were too strong.

Prior to the start of the trial al-Zeidi said he had been beaten and tortured while in custody.

There were more rumours this week that he had received hospital treatment for a broken foot and broken ribs, but his brother Dargham told The Guardian that he had visited al-Zeidi in detention two days ago, and that his brother had been in good health.—guardian.co.uk .

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