x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Iraqi forces accused of beating journalist

The Iraqi TV journalist who hurled his shoes at George W Bush has had his arm and ribs broken at the hands of Iraqi security forces, his brother says.

A Palestinian man holds a shoe during a demonstration calling for the release of Muntadar al Zeidi.
A Palestinian man holds a shoe during a demonstration calling for the release of Muntadar al Zeidi.

BAGHDAD // The Iraqi TV journalist who hurled his shoes at George W Bush, the US president, winning the adulation of the Arab world, had his arm and ribs broken at the hands of Iraqi security forces, his brother says. Muntazer al Zaidi, a Shiite, was bustled to the ground after launching his shoes at the US president and calling him a "dog". It is unclear if his arm and ribs were broken in the ensuing melee, which according to witnesses left blood on the floor, or if he was beaten later. "He has got a broken arm and ribs, and cuts to his eye and arm," his brother Durgham Zaidi told Agence France-Presse. His brother later confirmed the broken arm to Reuters and added that he had also been hit on the head with a rifle butt.

"All that we know is we were contacted yesterday by a person - we know him - and he told us that Muntazer was taken on Sunday to Ibn-Sina hospital," Durgham Zaidi said. "He was wounded in the head because he was hit by a rifle butt, and one of his arms was broken." The reports, which could not be confirmed, came as sources said the prime minister's guard, who initially arrested Mr al Zaidi, had turned him over to the army and then on to the judiciary. Being handed to the judiciary is usually an indication that a lengthy process, which could lead to a criminal trial, is about to be undertaken. A judge is presented with the evidence and decides if there is enough information to proceed with a trial, which can take months of legal wrangling.

Major Gen Abdul-Karim Khalaf, a spokesman for the interior ministry, had earlier said Mr al Zaidi could face up to two years in jail for insulting a foreign leader. Despite the seriousness of Mr al Zaidi's situation, who until the incident was a little known TV journalist, his legend continues to grow. Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's president known for calling Mr Bush a "donkey" and a "drunkard", praised Mr al Zaidi's courage. "It's a good thing it didn't hit him. I'm not encouraging throwing shoes at anybody, but really, what courage."

A Lebanese TV station offered Mr al Zaidi a job and promised to pay him a full salary from the moment the shoe was thrown. In Iraq, Mr al Zaidi's growing celebrity was seen in the number of text message jokes sent and received that refer to the case. The punchline of the most popular joke is that Mr Bush and Nouri al Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister who was standing next to Mr Bush at the time of the shoe throwing, had ordered all Iraqis banned from wearing shoes, they could only leave the house in slippers.

Another said Mr al Maliki, who tried to parry the second shoe, should be called up to the Iraqi national football team, as a goalkeeper. The joke being that despite trying to protect Mr Bush by thrusting out his hands, the Iraqi prime minister missed the shoe. For a country so fractured along ethnic and sectarian lines, Mr al Zaidi has had an amazing unifying effect on Iraq's Sunni and Shias communities who have unanimously got behind the Shiite reporter. "Let them go and see in Abu Ghraib and what their soldiers have done there and then they send this guy to court. He is a brave hero," said Hind Naji, 56, a Sunni. "Daily the Americans kill and they destroy hundreds of our cars with their Humvees and bad driving. They should charge these guys and take them to court, not chase our hero," said Ahmad Ali, 38, a Shiite. There was some concern among Iraqi intelligentsia that the incident could reflect badly on Iraqi. One university professor, who requested anonymity, said: "This journalist is impolite and it is a shame on Iraq and a shame on the Iraqi media, which has a hundred years of history." talbone@thenational.ae