Iraqi shoe tosser sentenced to 3 years

BAGHDAD, Iraq — A Baghdad judge ruled Thursday that an Iraqi journalist who hurled his shoes at former President George W. Bush was guilty of assaulting a foreign leader and sentenced him to three years in prison, a verdict that unleashed tumult in the courtroom.

"Long live Iraq!" shouted the television journalist, Muntadar al-Zaidi, as the sentence was handed down.

Smiling and waving, Zaidi, 30, was escorted afterward from the dilapidated courthouse in the Green Zone, where a crowd had gathered outside. Family members and other supporters wept.

"You're a hero, Muntadar!" some shouted. "Down with Bush!" others cried. "This is an American court!"

Zaidi became a folk hero of sorts in the Arab world after hurling both shoes at Bush, with considerable speed and accuracy, during a news conference Dec. 14. Bush, a nimble athlete with great reflexes, successfully ducked.

"This is your farewell kiss, you dog!" Zaidi shouted as he threw the footwear. "This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq."

In the days that followed, Zaidi's spectacle became a fixture of almost every conversation in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East. The gesture captured the deep-seated anger many in Iraq feel toward the U.S. occupation and the forces it unleashed that helped devastate the country.

Zaidi faced up to 15 years in prison, but his lawyers said the judges decided to show leniency because of his age and lack of prior convictions.

Unlike an earlier court session, when he said Bush's "smile with no spirit" provoked him to act, he offered only a short statement Thursday, answering the judge as to his innocence or guilt.

"I am innocent," he said. "What I did was a natural response to the occupation."

Iraqi shoe tosser sentenced to 3 years 03/12/09 [Last modified: Thursday, March 12, 2009 10:39pm]

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