BAGHDAD // The journalist who threw his shoes at US President George W Bush was handed over to the Iraqi military, an Iraqi official said, as hundreds took to the streets today for a second day demanding his release. Muntadhar al-Zeidi was turned over by the prime minister's security guards to face further investigation by the military command in charge of enforcing security in Baghdad, the official said. Mr al-Zeidi was initially arrested by Iraqi security and interrogated about whether anybody had paid him to throw his shoes at Bush during a news conference Sunday in Baghdad, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to talk to the media.
Mr al-Zeidi could face charges of insulting a foreign leader and the Iraqi prime minister, who was standing next to Bush. The offence carries a maximum penalty of two years in jail. In Mosul, Iraq's third largest city located north of Baghdad, an estimated 1,000 protesters carried banners and chanted slogans demanding Mr al-Zeidi's release. A couple of hundred more also protested on Tuesday in Nasiriyah, a Shiite city about 320 kilometres south-east of Baghdad, and Fallujah, a Sunni area west of the capital.
"Muntadhar al-Zeidi has expressed the feelings and ambitions of the Iraqi people toward the symbol of tyranny," said Nassar Afrawi, a protester in Nasiriyah. In Baghdad, the head of the Iraqi Union of Journalists described al-Zeidi's action as "strange and unprofessional", but urged prime minister Nouri al-Maliki to give him clemency. "Even if he has committed a mistake, the government and the judiciary are broad-minded and we hope they consider his release because he has a family and he is still young," Mouyyad al-Lami said. "We hope this case ends before going to court."
The protests came a day after tens of thousands throughout Iraq demonstrated in support of Mr al-Zeidi, whose action earned him hero status throughout the Arab world. It reflects Arab animosity toward Bush for the 2003 invasion of Iraq and dissatisfaction with the president's handling of foreign policy matters in the Middle East. Hostility persisted even though violence has dropped by more than 80 per cent in Iraq since car bombings and gunfights throughout the country were rampant earlier this year.
Nevertheless, Iraqi security forces and US troops continue to be targeted by insurgents. A roadside bomb targeting an Iraqi police patrol exploded in central Baghdad's Andalus Square today, wounding three police officers and three civilians, said Iraqi police officer Salam Mohammed. The US military said in a written statement that troops killed three suspected insurgents and detained three others in separate operations targeting al-Qaida networks in the northern Iraq.