IRAQ: Shoe-tosser case causes parliamentary chaos
The aftershocks of Iraqi journalist Muntather Zaidi's tossing of his shoes at President George Bush continued today in the Iraqi parliament chamber, where the parliament speaker, Mahmoud Mashadani, erupted in anger at lawmakers and said he was quitting over their obsession with the topic.
It was not immediately clear how serious Mashadani was. The speaker is known for his outbursts -- he slapped a legislator during a heated debate last year. He has been criticized by other lawmakers for yelling at parliament members during debates and surrounding himself with an aggressive posse of security guards.
The latest incident occurred as Iraq's parliament was due to hear the first reading of a bill that would mandate the withdrawal of British, Australian, El Salvadoran, Romanian and other non-U.S. foreign forces from Iraq next year. The bill calls for them to be out of the country by July 31, 2009. But members of Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr's political bloc, known as the Sadr Trend, objected to the reading and said the priority should be Zaidi's case.
Words were exchanged. Voices were raised. Mashadani, who found himself at the center of a near-brawl involving the Sadrists during November's debate on a pact governing the future of U.S. forces, got fed up. "I can't work in such a situation!" he declared, according to other lawmakers in the session. They quoted him as saying that half the parliament members were loyal to the government, others were loyal to their parties, and hence no serious work could get done.
Sadrists have demanded Zaidi be freed. They also oppose any pacts allowing foreign troops to remain in Iraq past the end of this year and provoked chaos in the parliament during November debate on the pact that will permit American forces to stay in Iraq through 2011.
Zaidi, meanwhile, remains in custody, but it is unclear what he will be charged with. Lawyers in Iraq have said he could face two years in prison for assaulting a visiting foreign dignitary. However, Prime Minister Nouri Maliki is facing pressure to release Zaidi, whom many across the Middle East have praised for his actions. The journalist hurled both his shoes at Bush during a news conference and called the U.S. president a "dog" before being wrestled to the ground and taken away.
Neither shoe hit Bush, who shrugged off the incident.
-- Tina Susman in Baghdad
Photo: Mahmoud Mashadani, Iraq parliament speaker. Credit: Courtesy of the U.S. military, by Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Woody S. Paschall
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