Dec. 14 (Bloomberg) -- President George W. Bush ducked two shoes thrown at him by a man during a press conference in the Iraqi prime minister's office to mark the signing of a security agreement.
Bush wasn't hit by the shoes, which both sailed over his head after they were thrown one after the other. The president shrugged and said "I'm OK" after the incident in Baghdad today. "All I can report is it is a size 10," Bush said afterwards.
In Arab culture, throwing shoes is a grave show of disrespect. "This is the farewell kiss, you dog," the man shouted in Arabic.
After U.S. troops pulled down a statue of former dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003, Iraqi bystanders tossed shoes at it, according to news reports at the time. Bush said today's incident was an example of free speech in a democracy.
The man threw the shoes from about 25 feet away as Bush, standing with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, made formal remarks before the signing of the Iraqi-U.S. agreement. Maliki tried to block the second thrown shoe as it flew toward Bush, according to video of the incident shown on television.
Wrestled to Ground
The shoe-thrower, who was in a group of journalists, was wrestled to the ground and taken away. "This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq," shouted the man, later identified by the Associated Press as Muntadar al-Zeidi, a correspondent for Al-Baghdadia television, an Iraqi- owned station based in Cairo, Egypt.
At the signing ceremony, Bush said a free and democratic Iraq will now become "a force for freedom" and a "source of stability in a volatile region."
"There is still more work to be done," Bush said. "The war is not over." The president said that with the agreement, "and the courage of the Iraqi people, and the Iraqi troops, and American troops and civilian personnel, it is decisively on its way to being won."
Bush arrived today in Baghdad on a surprise visit -- his last to Iraq as commander-in-chief -- to celebrate the agreement, thank U.S. troops and meet with Iraqi leaders.
It was Bush's fourth visit to a nation transformed by the U.S.-led war he started in 2003. It follows three weeks after Iraq's parliament approved an accord with the U.S. that provides for the withdrawal of American troops by the end of 2011.
President-elect Barack Obama has said one of his first acts as commander-in-chief would be to direct his military commanders to begin withdrawing troops "as quickly as we can" while maintaining stability in Iraq, ensuring the safety of U.S. troops and preventing a resurgence of terrorism.
The president has made three previous unannounced trips to Iraq -- on Thanksgiving 2003, June 13, 2006, and Sept. 3, 2007.
While those earlier trips were intended largely to bolster troop morale and shore up domestic support for the unpopular war, Bush's latest Iraq visit amounted to a valedictory appearance. He leaves office on Jan. 20.
Bush ended his visit to Baghdad by addressing more than 1,000 troops at Camp Victory, the staging area in Baghdad for U.S. forces. He was greeted by cheers and whoops inside the late Saddam Hussein's Al Faw palace, where he stood beneath an American flag that reached nearly to the rotunda of the palace.
The surge of additional U.S. troops sent to Iraq early last year to quell sectarian violence has been "one of the greatest successes in the history of the United States military," Bush said.
--Editors: Ann Hughey, Edward DeMarco.
To contact the reporter on this story: Edwin Chen in Baghdad at +1-202-624-1844 or email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Forsythe at +1-202-624-1940 or firstname.lastname@example.org
-0- Dec/14/2008 21:21 GMT