Iraqi Journalist Throws Shoes At President Bush

President Bush made an unannounced trip to Iraq on Sunday. He and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki signed a ceremonial copy of a U.S.-Iraq security agreement. Bush also dodged a pair of shoes flung by a correspondent for Al-Baghdadia television during a news conference in Iraq. Later, the president joked the shoes were a size 10.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is Morning Edition from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Renee Montagne. When President Bush went to Iraq and Afghanistan this past weekend, it was likely the last such visit of his presidency. Mr. Bush met both Iraqi leaders and American troops in Baghdad. But this trip may be best remembered for something else. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro is in Baghdad with this report.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: President Bush's visit to Iraq was carefully scripted to send the message that after almost six years of brutal war, Iraq is on its way to being a peaceful and stable democracy. Mr. Bush was greeted by a marching band and a red carpet at Iraqi President Jalal Talabani's home in the heavily guarded Green Zone. The images were broadcast live on Iraqi state television - a first. During the president's previous three trips to Iraq, his whereabouts were always kept secret for fear of attacks.

There was also a ceremonial signing of a copy of the security agreement between the U.S. and Iraq. Beginning January 1, the U.S. military here will have its activities dramatically curtailed. U.S. soldiers won't be able to hold onto detainees or go on raids without Iraqi permission. Ultimately under the agreement, U.S. troops will have to withdraw from Iraq by 2012. But the trip's most dramatic moment came just after the signing when the two leaders stood together at a podium to take questions from the assembled media.

(Soundbite of press conference, Prime Minister's Palace, Baghdad, Iraq)

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Shukran Jazeelan.

(Soundbite of commotion)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Iraqi TV journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi threw a shoe at Mr. Bush shouting from about 12 feet away, this is a gift from the Iraqis. This is a farewell kiss, you dog. He then managed to throw his other shoe as well, calling out, this is from the widows, the orphans, and those who were killed in Iraq. Prime Minister Maliki tried to shield the president with his hand while Zaidi was wrestled to the ground and dragged away screaming. Neither projectile hit its intended mark. The president made light of the incident.

(Soundbite of press conference, Prime Minister's Palace, Baghdad, Iraq)

President BUSH: It doesn't bother me. And if you want some - if you want the facts, it's a size-10 shoe that he threw.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But the joke did nothing to obscure the pointed symbolism in the TV journalist's actions. Throwing one's shoes at someone here is one of the rudest gestures one can make. When the statue of Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003, Iraqis crowded around it, slapping it with the soles of their shoes. Iraqi state television did not replay the pictures of President Bush being treated in a similar manner yesterday. But on the streets of Baghdad, Muntadar al-Zaidi's actions were the talk of the town this morning, and everyone interviewed by NPR had nothing but praise for him. Mohammed Hassan(ph) is an employee at the Ministry of Housing.

Mr. MOHAMMED HASSAN: (Through Translator) He attacked the criminal U.S. President Bush with his own shoes. And we are so delighted that we have a hero like him. This criminal Bush destroyed Iraq, the Iraqi people, and Iraqi civilization. He is not welcome in this land.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Loya Rajab(ph) is an engineer.

Mr. LOYA RAJAB (Iraqi Engineer): (Through Translator) He expressed the feeling of each Iraqi about the killing and destruction in Iraq caused by Bush. An enemy will always get his revenge, and Bush is our enemy. We suffered a lot these last five years.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: For President Bush, this trip was a final attempt to show that this was a war worth fighting. While security has improved since the sectarian bloodletting of 2006 and 2007, there are still daily attacks here. At least 140,000 U.S. troops are on the ground. The president spoke to reporters after a meeting with Iraqi leaders where he defended the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

(Soundbite of press conference, Iraq)

President BUSH: And the work hasn't been easy, but it has been necessary for American security, Iraqi hope, and world peace.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mr. Bush leaves office in just over a month. His successor, President-elect Barack Obama, is promising to oversee the end of what Mr. Bush began. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Baghdad.

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