Some Iraqis Support Tough Shoe-Thrower Sentence

Not all Iraqis want to let the shoe thrower off the hook and some even agree with the harsh three-year jail sentence Muntadhar al-Zeidi received today from an Iraqi court.

Granted, it's a minority. Zeidi was lauded in street demonstrations in Baghdad and other capitals when the 30-year-old television reporter zinged his two shoes past a ducking President George W. Bush in a press conference here Dec. 14. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, at a lectern next to Bush, vainly tried to block the flying leather. Iraqi security wrestled and pummeled Zeidi and whisked him off to jail.

Zeidi later told the court that he couldn't bear listening to Bush claim success in Iraq while all the reporter could think of was the monumental human loss and suffering of the last six years. He said he viewed Bush as an occupier. Iraqis and other Arabs have hailed him as a national hero. It's probably the majority view, but there's a nuance, too.

Many think he broke an important Middle Eastern and especially Iraqi code that requires hospitality for even reviled guests. It's a little like American Southern hospitality--if someone is in your house, you treat them well as a sign of your own good upbringing and honor. "[Bush] was a guest and a guest should be respected and not humiliated," said a construction worker who wanted to be identified just by his first name, Fawad. "It's our duty to respect him, not because we love Americans but because we love our country. In our tradition as Arabs, even if you see your enemy at a meeting you should greet your enemy as a sign of respect for that meeting."

Zeidi's lawyers made a compelling argument that the sentence was too stiff. They said he should not have been charged under the law against attacks on a foreign leader but rather a lesser crime of insulting a foreign leader.

"Muntadhar would not have dared to throw his shoe at President Bush if Saddam had been receiving Bush, not al-Maliki," said Sabah Shakir Majhool, a university student. "The three years is a fair sentence for his bad behavior." Another man, an engineer, noted that if he had a complaint about Bush, Zeidi could have used his platform as a journalist to express it.

Others may feel more like Ahmed Saad, a 37-year-old grocer who expressed the same anger as Zeidi about the American-wrought chaos of the recent years. "They should honor him instead of punishing him," he said. "He has done what every Iraqi should have done against the criminal Bush, who destroyed the country and caused the killing of young people and children." Or like mechanic Abdullah Mustafa who said, "It's not fair to put a good guy who loves his country and people in prison just because he has done what all Iraqis wish to do. Zeidi's protest did give voice to Iraqis who felt ignored."

Zeidi has already spent three months in jail and, according to family members, has been badly beaten. Even with good behavior, he might not get out for about two years. Elections are scheduled for early next year. Perhaps the Iraqi leadership could show the same nuance as the people have and commute his sentence before then.

--With Hussam Ali, Saad al-Izzi and Salih Mehdi in Baghdad.