14 September 2009
Zaidi catapulted into the international spotlight when he stood up in the middle of a press conference being given in December in Baghdad by President Bush and the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.
“It is the farewell kiss, you dog,” he shouted before hurling the first shoe. “This is for the widows and orphans of Iraq,” he went on, as he threw the second.
He was sentenced to three years in prison for assaulting a foreign head of state, later reduced to one year. He has served nine months, with time off for good behavior.
But while he has been hailed as a popular hero, Zaidi, who was due to be freed yesterday (Mon), fell foul of Baghdad’s paper-pushers. Clerks at the jail failed to fill in the requisite release forms.
Zaidi’s brother and three sisters were waiting for him outside the prison yesterday morning, hoping to accompany him back to their two-bedroom apartment in Sadr City, the poor Shia Muslim suburb of the Iraqi capital.
There, a party had been arranged: his nieces and nephews were waiting with balloons and “welcome home” posters.
Zaidi, a journalist for a local television station run from Cairo, al-Baghdadiya, had made a reputation – and been strongly influenced – by his reporting on the deaths and injuries caused by American forces’ raids.
He had also been kidnapped by armed groups and arrested by American forces.
Although some Iraqis professed shame that a guest had been ill-treated, Zaidi was acclaimed across the Middle East – his picture etched into walls in Gaza and hung from banners in Damascus.
His greatest support is from the more radical anti-American factions of his own Shia Muslim community, from which he comes.
“Muntazer is a courageous man,” said Salah al-Obeidi, spokesman for Muqtada al-Sadr, who led uprisings against the allied occupation in 2004. “His release will be a great victory for everyone opposed to the occupation.”
What Zaidi has been offered
• The Emir of Qatar has pledged a golden statue of a horse
• An organisation headed by the daughter of Col Gaddafi of Libya awarded him a medal
• An Iraqi living in Morocco has offered the hand of his daughter and women from across the Arab world rang his newspaper asking to marry him
• His company has bought him a new house
• Businessmen have offered to club together to buy him a sports car
• He has been offered jobs by several Arab television networks
• A Saudi businessman offered to buy one of the shoes for $10 million, but they were instead tested for explosives by the US military and then burned