More Iraqis rally to cause of reporter who threw shoes at Bush

Um Saad, Muntathar al-Zaidi's sister, holds his photograph during a protest for Muntathar's release outside Baghdad's International Zone.
Um Saad, Muntathar al-Zaidi's sister, holds his photograph during a protest for Muntathar's release outside Baghdad's International Zone. Sahar Issa / MCT

BAGHDAD — The Iraqi journalist who hurled his shoes at President George W. Bush intends to press charges against the people who he says beat him as he was taken into custody, said a member of the Iraqi parliament who's urging his release.

Bahaa al Araji, a member of parliament from a party tied to Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr, said journalist Muntathar al Zaidi earlier on Friday had presented his case that he was beaten to an Iraqi judge.

Zaidi's outburst at a news conference that Bush held with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki on Sunday has sparked rallies all around the country, and now Sunni leaders are lionizing the Shiite journalist.

Facing charges of attacking a head of state, Zaidi could be sentenced to as many as 15 years in jail. Zaidi's family wants him tried under a different law that would carry a maximum sentence of two years, his brother said.

Araji joined more than 70 protesters outside Baghdad's Green Zone, a secure area that includes the Parliament and Maliki's residence. Araji said Zaidi should appear in court no later than Thursday.

"We know that the judges themselves feel for him and, God willing, he will be with his family soon," Araji said. "Tomorrow we will submit a formal request that Zaidi should be allowed visits by his family."

Iraqis in different cities have protested every day this week for Zaidi, and Friday's rally brought together a handful of politicians, Zaidi's siblings and a mix of protesters from several provinces outside of Baghdad.

"Because of Muntathar, I lift my head high. And to be frank, I haven't been proud to be an Iraqi for five long years of humiliation," said Sheikh Mohammed al Inizi, a leader in the Sons of Iraq movement, which brought Sunni tribes together with American forces to fight terrorist cells.

"We should call him Muntathar al Iraqi — not Muntathar al Zaidi; all of Iraq is his tribe now," Inizi said.

Munthatar's younger brother, Maythem, 28, said the family would take part in the protests until the court allows them access to him. "I affirm that his was a heroic act, and we as a family are proud of him. He was able to unite all of Iraq, all its Sunnis, Shiites, Arabs, Kurds, Turkomen and Christians."

Muntathar al Zaidi is a reporter for the Baghdadiya satellite television channel, which has stood by him and demanded his release. It also appointed a lawyer to defend Zaidi, but Zaidi's siblings said the government hasn't allowed the lawyer to meet him.

Others, such as Maliki's media office, have called Zaidi's actions "barbaric" and an embarrassment for Iraq.

Zaidi has asked Maliki for a pardon and apologized, Maliki's office said.

Yassin Majid, Maliki's media adviser, quoted from the letter on an Iraqi television program on Friday.

"Zaidi said in his letter that his big ugly act cannot be excused," Majid said. He quoted Zaidi as writing: "But I remember in the summer of 2005, I interviewed your Excellency and you told me, 'Come in, this is your house'. And so I appeal to your fatherly feelings to forgive me."

Zaidi's sister, Um Saad, is skeptical that Zaidi wrote the apology.

"He would never apologize for insulting the man who occupied our country," she said.

(Issa is a McClatchy special correspondent in Baghdad.)


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