Iraqi who threw shoes asks for pardon
In letter, he is said to write of his 'ugly act'
BAGHDAD - The Iraqi journalist who hurled his shoes at President Bush is begging for a pardon for what he described as "an ugly act," the prime minister's spokesman said yesterday.
Muntader al-Zaidi, a correspondent for an Iraqi-owned television station based in Cairo, could face two years imprisonment for insulting a foreign leader. He remained in custody last night.
"It is too late to reverse the big and ugly act that I perpetrated," Zaidi wrote in a letter delivered to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, according to the prime minister's spokesman.
The spokesman, Yassin Majid, told The Associated Press that Zaidi went on in the letter to recall an interview he conducted with the prime minister in 2005 when Maliki invited him into his home, saying: "Come in, it is your home too."
"So I ask for your pardon, excellency," Majid quoted the letter as saying.
However, the journalist's brother, Dhargham al-Zaidi, told the AP he was skeptical that his brother would write such a letter.
"I am suspicious that my brother wrote that letter to al-Maliki because I know my brother very well," he said. He added that family members and staffers from Al-Baghdadia would stage a sit-in today near the US-controlled Green Zone.
White House press secretary Dana Perino said yesterday that she'd seen reports that Zaidi had apologized but that she did not know whether Bush was aware of them.
"The president harbors no hard feelings about it, and the Iraqis have a process that they'll follow," Perino said. "But he did urge them not to overreact, because he was not bothered by the incident, although it's not appropriate for people to throw shoes at a press conference, at any leader."
Perino suffered a bruised eye in the melee that followed the attack.
"What happened to me was just an accident in the melee. It's not - I'm not bothered by it. It's not all that pretty," she said referring to her bruise, "but I'm not worried about it."
Zaidi has been in custody since the Sunday night incident, which occurred during a news conference by Bush and Maliki.
The case has riveted Iraq, with many Iraqis considering him a hero for defying a president they blame for destroying the country.
A shouting match Wednesday between parliament members for and against Zaidi prompted the speaker, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, to announce he was resigning.
Mashhadani showed up at parliament yesterday to resume his speaker duties. But so many lawmakers boycotted in protest of Mashhadani's outburst that the session was canceled.
Zaidi's action was broadcast repeatedly on television stations worldwide. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack suggested that incident was overblown.
"We would hope that the fact of a US president standing next to a freely elected prime minister of Iraq who just happens to be Shi'a, who is governing in a multi-confessional, multi-ethnic democracy in the heart of the Middle East, is not overshadowed by one incident like this," McCormack told reporters in Washington.
McCormack said he believed that in the coming years, "the fact of the president making that visit under those circumstances will probably overshadow any memory of this particular gentleman and what he did."
According to Iraq's constitution, President Jalal Talabani can issue a pardon if recommended by the prime minister, except for certain offenses including international crimes.
That would enable the government to put an end to the affair without risking a backlash from Zaidi's admirers.
Such pardons are ordinarily issued only after someone has been convicted.
An investigating judge is studying whether there is enough evidence for a trial.
Maliki was standing next to Bush when the journalist threw his shoes and shouted at Bush in Arabic, "This is your farewell kiss, you dog! This is from the widows, the orphans, and those who were killed in Iraq."
Zaidi was tackled by Iraqi and US security after throwing his shoes at Bush, who deftly ducked.
A judge visited Zaidi in his jail cell this week and the family was told to return to court next week, according to Dhargham al-Zaidi.
Dhargham al-Zaidi claims his brother was severely beaten after being taken into custody. However, Iraqi officials and another brother deny the journalist suffered severe injuries.