Iraqi leader says shoe-thrower implicated militant
Suspect's family rejects link
BAGHDAD - Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki moved yesterday to undermine the popularity of the Iraqi who threw his shoes at President Bush, saying the journalist confessed that the attack was coordinated by a militant known for slitting his victims' throats.
Tensions over the case also spilled into Parliament, as a move to oust the abrasive Sunni speaker delayed a key decision on whether non-US foreign troops would be allowed to stay in Iraq beyond New Year's Eve.
Maliki said that in a letter of apology to him, Muntader al-Zaidi wrote that a known militant had induced him to throw the shoes.
"He revealed . . . that a person provoked him to commit this act, and that person is known to us for slitting throats," Maliki said, according to the prime minister's website. The alleged instigator was not named and neither Maliki nor any of his officials would elaborate.
The journalist's family denied the claim and alleged that Zaidi was coerced into writing the letter, in which he was said to have requested a pardon for "the big and ugly act that I perpetrated."
Zaidi's brother Dhargham said that it was "unfair" of Maliki to make the allegation about the throat-slitter and described the prime minister as "a sectarian man who is destroying the Iraqi people."
Earlier, another brother said that he met the journalist in prison.
"He told me that he has no regret for what he did and that he would do it again," Uday al-Zaidi said.
He said he visited his brother Sunday and found him missing a tooth and with cigarette burns on his ears. He also said his brother told him that jailers doused him with cold water while he was naked.
"When I saw him yesterday, there were bruises on his face and body. He told me that they used an iron bar to hit him when they took him out of the press conference room. He told me that he began screaming and thought all those at the press conference would have heard his voice," Uday al-Zaidi said.
The investigating judge, Dhia al-Kinani, has said that the journalist was beaten in the face when he was wrestled to the ground after throwing the shoes at Bush during a Dec. 14 press conference in the Green Zone. The judge said Zaidi's face was bruised, but he did not provide a further description.
There has been no independent corroboration that Zaidi was abused in custody.
Abdul-Sattar Bayrkdar, a spokesman for the Iraqi Higher Judicial Court, said that when the investigating judge took Zaidi's statement last week, the journalist "did not ask to be checked by a medical committee and did not say that he was tortured during the investigation."
Zaidi's trial on charges of assaulting a foreign leader is scheduled to begin Dec. 31. A conviction would carry a sentence of up to two years in prison. Kinani said last week that he does not have the legal option to drop the case and that Zaidi can receive a pardon only if he is convicted.
The hurling of the shoes turned the little-known Iraqi journalist into an international celebrity and led to huge street demonstrations in support of him.