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Context of 'December 14, 2008: Iraqi Journalist Insults Bush by Hurling Shoes at Him'

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The burned, mutilated corpses of two Blackwater contractors hang from a bridge outside Fallujah while Iraqi civilians celebrate.The burned, mutilated corpses of two Blackwater contractors hang from a bridge outside Fallujah while Iraqi civilians celebrate. [Source: NoGW.com]Four employees of the private security firm Blackwater, Jerry Zovko, Wesley Batalona, Scott Helvenston and Michael Teague, are killed by small arms fire while driving through Fallujah. [The News Observer, 7/8/2007] Their bodies are then taken out of their convoy and mutilated by an angry mob. Images of two corpses of the contractors hanging from a bridge over the Euphrates River are sent all over the world. The families of the four slain men later file a lawsuit against Blackwater claiming that the company broke their contract by cutting corners on security costs in order to make a greater profit. The convoy that the Blackwater employees were driving lacked both armor for protection and a rear gunner, making it extremely easy for a few Iraqi gunmen to kill them. There also was an alternate path around Fallujah the men could have taken but did not know about because Blackwater did not conduct a “risk assessment,” which they were contractually obligated to do. [Nation, 5/8/2006] In July 2007, memos from another Blackwater team published in the media blame Blackwater’s Baghdad manager, Tom Powell, for sending the two teams into Fallujah undermanned, underarmed, and without maps (see June 8, 2007).

Entity Tags: Tom Powell, Wesley Batalona, Scott Helvenston, Jerry Zovko, Michael Teague, Blackwater USA

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

US Marines patrolling a Fallujah neighborhood.US Marines patrolling a Fallujah neighborhood. [Source: Stars and Stripes]The Christian Science Monitor examines the reasons why the Iraqi town of Fallujah is such an intransigent area of resistance to the US occupation (see April 28, 2003 and March 31, 2004). Some Americans, such as Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, blame the recalcitrance on the largely Sunni population of Fallujah and its environs, saying that they long for the return of Saddam Hussein to power. “This was a city that profited immeasurably… under the former regime,” Kimmitt says. “They have a view that somehow the harder they fight, the better chance they have of achieving some sort of restorationist movement.”
Simplistic Explanations Inaccurate - However, Iraqi experts on the region say the truth is far more complex. The area is inhabited by a deeply clannish network of tribes and groups, as is much of the so-called “Sunni Triangle.” To many of these inhabitants, personal honor and vengeance is more important than any possible return of the Hussein regime. The problem began in the days after the initial occupation of the area by the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, where, according to some experts knowledgeable about the situation, the residents felt dishonored and disrespected by their occupiers. “You can never forget that in this area retaliation is almost the fundamental element of the tribal system, its focal point,” says Sadoun al-Dulame, a Baghdad-based political scientist who grew up in the area as a member of the Dulame tribe. “This is a revenge culture where insults to people’s honor will always be repaid with violence.” The recent upsurge in violence in the area may also have something to do with the 82nd turning control of the region over to the Marines; area insurgents may be testing the new troops. Experts such as al-Dulame say that if Fallujah residents feel that their interests will be protected by a new government (likely to be dominated by the Sunnis’ ancient rivals, the Shi’a), then violence will lessen. But even the most optimistic estimates say that peace in the region is a year or more away.
Confluence of Factors - According to an analysis by Iraq expert Amatzia Baram, Fallujah has a large population of members of Hussein’s Albu Nasser tribe, and large numbers of ex-Iraqi Army and Iraqi intelligence personnel. Most of the Sunnis in the area are devoutly, rigidly religious, strongly influenced by the Salafy traditions of neighboring Jordan, Syria, and Saudi Arabia. Other hotbeds of violence such as Tikrit are influenced by Turkey and are less fundamentalist in their religious outlooks. “It’s gone beyond ‘you killed my cousin so I have to kill you,’” says Baram. “It’s about religion.” Worse for the Americans, there is a fundamental difference in the way the two cultures approach war. “If I kill someone from your tribe, I know another member of my tribe will definitely be killed,” Baram says. “But people in Fallujah have learned that when they kill Americans nothing much happens. They learned that the Americans have different values, and this makes killing an American less dangerous than killing someone from another tribe.” Experts such as Nadhim Jissour, another political scientist, say that even after US forces leave the region, Fallujah could still be an axis of resistance to a new Iraqi government. As for current US plans to escalate its presence in the region, these are likely to be less than effective. “If you hit the whole city, you will simply be expanding the circle of your opponents,” says al-Dulame. “There’s not much the Americans should do now but withdraw.” [Christian Science Monitor, 4/2/2004]

Entity Tags: Mark Kimmitt, Nadhim Jissour, Saddam Hussein, Sadoun al-Dulame, Amatzia Baram, Christian Science Monitor

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Blackwater’s Bagdad manager gets the blame for the death of four Blackwater employees in Fallujah in 2004 (see March 31, 2004). Memos show that Blackwater sent two teams out, named Bravo 2 and November 1. Both were sent out with four men instead of the usual six. Bravo 2 protested that they weren’t ready for the mission, which was guarding empty flatbed trucks and picking up a food service company executive. They had no maps and had no time to prepare their weapons, but both teams were commanded to go anyway. Bravo 2 refused to follow their directions to drive through Fallujah, and instead drove around it and returned safely to Baghdad that evening. The four members of November 1 followed orders, went into Fallujah, and were massacred. Bravo 2 team memos blame Blackwater’s Baghdad site manager Tom Powell for giving these orders. For instance, team member Daniel Browne will later write in a memo that “we all want to kill him.” Memos about the incident will surface in mid-July 2007 after Congress opens an inquiry into Blackwater’s activities in Iraq. Like other private security firms, Blackwater has received hundreds of millions of dollars in federal contracts, with little or no oversight from Congress until 2007. Had a military officer sent four lightly armed soldiers into Fallujah and had them killed in such a brutal and public manner, that officer likely would have faced public scrutiny and a military inquiry. But Blackwater has never conducted such a public probe, and for years will refuse to provide documents such as the Bravo 2 memos to Congress. The families of the four members of November 1 have sued Blackwater in an effort to find out what happened. [The News Observer, 7/8/2007]

Entity Tags: Tom Powell, Blackwater USA, Daniel Browne

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

An Iraqi journalist hurls a shoe at President Bush.An Iraqi journalist hurls a shoe at President Bush. [Source: BBC]An Iraqi journalist throws a pair of shoes at President Bush during a press conference in Baghdad. In Arab culture, throwing shoes at a person, or showing them the sole of your shoe, is considered a grave insult—shoes are considered ritually unclean. During the conference, Muntadar al-Zaidi, a correspondent for Cairo-based al-Baghdadiya TV, stands up, shouts, “This is a goodbye kiss from the Iraqi people, dog!” and hurls the first shoe. He then shouts, “This is for the widows and orphans and all those killed in Iraq!” and hurls the second shoe. Bush ducks away from the thrown shoes, and both miss their target. Al-Zaidi is wrestled to the floor by security guards within seconds of throwing the second shoe, removed from the room and beaten, and taken into custody where he is soon arrested. Bush brushes aside the incident, telling the remaining journalists, “That’s what people do in a free society, draw attention to themselves,” as al-Zaidi’s screaming can be heard from outside the conference room. Bush flew to Baghdad for a surprise visit. During the momentary chaos after the shoes are hurled, his press secretary, Dana Perino, is struck in the eye with a microphone stand; the blow is accidental. Bush, in the last weeks of his presidency, says that the war in Iraq is not yet over, and more work remains to be done. He will later joke, “If you want the facts, it’s a size 10 shoe that he threw.” Other Iraqi journalists say the attack was symbolic, and note that Iraqis threw shoes and used them to beat statues of Saddam Hussein after his overthrow. Bush says being pelted with shoes may be one of the “weirdest” moments of his presidency. He is accompanied to the press conference by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. [New York Times, 12/14/2008; BBC, 12/15/2008; BBC, 12/15/2008; USA Today, 12/15/2008] Bush later compares the incident to the disruption of an earlier White House press conference with Chinese President Hu Jintao by a Falun Gong follower, and says it would be wrong to read the feelings of an entire country into the single instance. “I don’t think you can take one guy and say this represents a broad movement in Iraq,” he says. He notes that the other Iraqi journalists in the room “were very apologetic and said this doesn’t represent the Iraqi people.” [USA Today, 12/15/2008]
Others' Reactions - A former colleague of Al-Zaidi, Haider Nassar, explains, “He had bad feelings about the coalition forces.” Of al-Zaidi’s actions, Nassar says it is a poor way to establish his points. “This is so silly; it’s just the behavior of an individual,” Nassar says. “He destroyed his future.” [New York Times, 12/14/2008] Adil Shamoo, an Iraqi analyst at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, says of the incident: “I think we should go beyond the shoe and think about the fact that the US should respect Iraq’s sovereignty in order to regain respect of the Iraqi people and the Arab world. I think Bush has increased terrorism against the United States and instablity in the Middle East because of his policies.” [Al Jazeera, 12/15/2008]
History of Shoes Used to Insult Americans - This is not the first time Iraqis have used shoes to insult American officials. Until the 2003 invasion, a likeness of Bush’s father, former President George H. W. Bush, was prominently featured in a floor mosaic near the front door of Baghdad’s Rashid Hotel; visitors would tread on it in symbolic punishment for alleged “war crimes” committed during the 1991 Gulf War. (The likeness has since been removed.) In 2004, the corpses of four American mercenaries killed and strung up on a bridge in Fallujah (see March 31, 2004) were beaten with shoes by local citizens. Posters of the current president, adorned with shoes, are common sights in many parts of Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries. And Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been given the insulting nickname of “Kundera,” meaning shoe, by many Middle Easterners. [BBC, 12/15/2008; USA Today, 12/15/2008] In late January, an Iraqi orphanage will unveil a “shoe monument” in honor of al-Zaidi’s act (see January 29, 2009). Al-Zaidi will be freed from prison in September 2009 (see September 14, 2009).

Entity Tags: George Herbert Walker Bush, Dana Perino, Haider Nassar, Condoleezza Rice, George W. Bush, Nouri al-Maliki, Muntadar al-Zaidi, Adil Shamoo

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

The Bush ‘shoe monument,’ unveiled at an orphanage in Tikrit.The Bush ‘shoe monument,’ unveiled at an orphanage in Tikrit. [Source: CNN]A monument to the shoes thrown at President Bush (see December 14, 2008) is unveiled during a ceremony at an orphanage in Tikrit, Iraq. The monument is a sculpture created by Laith al-Amiri with the assistance of the orphans at the facility. Many people in Iraq and throughout the Arab world regard the shoe thrower, journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi, as a hero, and many are calling for his release from prison. The monument is, essentially, a fiberglass shoe nearly 12 feet high and coated with copper. Faten Abdulqader al-Naseri, the orphanage director, says: “Those orphans who helped the sculptor in building this monument were the victims of Bush’s war. The shoe monument is a gift to the next generation to remember the heroic action by the journalist. When the next generation sees the shoe monument, they will ask their parents about it. When their parents will start talking about the hero Muntadar al-Zaidi, who threw his shoe at George W. Bush during his unannounced farewell visit.” [CNN, 1/29/2009]

Entity Tags: Faten Abdulqader al-Naseri, Muntadar al-Zaidi, Laith al-Amiri, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

The lawyer for Iraqi journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi, jailed in December 2008 for throwing shoes at President Bush (see December 14, 2008), announces that his client will be freed from prison on September 15. Many Iraqis and other Middle Eastern citizens have called for al-Zaidi’s release since his conviction and incarceration, and consider the journalist a hero for expressing his anger and contempt for the former president, though others consider the act a violation of the tradition of honoring the guest. Al-Zaidi is completing a one-year prison sentence for “assaulting a foreign head of state on an official visit to Iraq”; his term was reduced from the original three-year sentence, and he is being released early for good behavior. “We are happy, like any detainee’s family would be happy for the release of its son after the bitter time he spent in jail,” says the journalist’s brother, Dhirgham al-Zaidi. [CNN, 9/14/2009]

Entity Tags: Muntadar al-Zaidi, Dhirgham al-Zaidi

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

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