BAGHDAD — President George W. Bush ducked a pair of shoes hurled at his head — one shoe after the other — in the middle of a news conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Both shoes narrowly missed their target and thumped loudly against the wall behind the leaders.
“This is a farewell kiss, you dog,” the assailant yelled in Arabic.
“Don’t worry about it,” the president said as the room erupted into chaos.
Iraqi reporters started shouting what Bush later explained were apologies for the incident.
“So what if the guy threw a shoe at me?” Bush said, comparing the action to political protests in the United States.
“If you want the facts, it was a size 10,” he joked.
The shoe attack came as Bush and al-Maliki were about to shake hands. The assailant — later identified as television correspondent Muntadar al-Zeidi — leapt from his chair and hurled his footwear at the president, who was about 20 feet away.
The crowd descended on al-Zeidi, who works for Al-Baghdadia television, an Iraqi-owned station based in Cairo, Egypt. He was wrestled to the ground by security officials and then hauled away, moaning as he was taken away. Later, a trail of fresh blood could be seen on the carpet, although the source was not known.
In Iraqi culture, throwing shoes at someone is a sign of contempt. When U.S. Marines toppled Saddam Hussein’s statue on Firdos Square in 2003, the assembled crowd whacked it with their shoes
Al-Baghdadia’s Baghdad manager told the AP he had no idea what prompted his reporter to go on the attack.
“I am trying to reach Muntadar since the incident, but in vain,” said Fityan Mohammed. “His phone is switched off.”
The station issued a statement on the air Sunday night asking the Iraqi government to release al-Zeidi “to spare his life.”
“The station calls on journalists all over the world to express their solidarity for the release of al-Zeidi,” it said.