An Iraqi reporter called U.S. President George W. Bush a "dog" and threw his shoes at him on Sunday, sullying a farewell visit to Baghdad meant to mark greater security in Iraq after years of bloodshed.
Just weeks before he bequeaths the unpopular Iraq war to President-elect Barack Obama, Bush sought to underline improved security by landing in daylight and venturing out beyond the city's heavily fortified international Green Zone.
In a sign of lingering anger over the war that will define Bush’s foreign policy legacy, an Iraqi journalist shouted in Arabic "this is a goodbye kiss from the Iraqi people, dog," and hurled his shoes at Bush during a news conference with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Throwing shoes at somebody is a supreme insult in the Middle East. One of the shoes sailed over the president's head and slammed into the wall behind him and he had to duck to miss the other one. Maliki tried to block the second shoe with his arm.
A size 10
The sole of shoes are considered the ultimate insult in Arab culture. After Saddam Hussein's statue was toppled in Baghdad in April 2003, many spectators beat the statue's face with their soles.
The White House said Bush ducked to avoid the first shoe, while the second narrowly missed the president.
Bush said: "All I can report is it is a size 10," according to his office.
In the meantime, Bush and al-Maliki signed a security accord which calls for American troops to pull out of Iraq by the end of 2011.
The two leaders, in a symbolic ceremony, added their names to the accord, which was officially signed on November 17 by Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari and U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker.
The signing was held at Maliki's private office in the highly-fortified Green Zone of central Baghdad that houses the Iraqi government and U.S. and British embassies.
Praise for Bush
Bush's fleeting visit to Baghdad was aimed at marking the recent passage of a U.S.-Iraq security pact that paves the way for U.S. troops to pull out of Iraqi cities by July next year and withdraw completely by the end of 2011.
It was also meant to hail a recent sharp fall in the sectarian violence and insurgency that raged after the 2003 U.S. invasion to topple Saddam Hussein, and to show support for Iraqi police and soldiers as they take on increasing responsibility.
Bush thanked U.S. forces for their service in Iraq at a rally of about 1,500 cheering troops inside Saddam's old al-Faw palace at the sprawling U.S. military base of Camp Victory.
"The surge is one of the greatest successes in the history of the U.S. military," Bush said, referring to the decision to send an additional 30,000 troops to Iraq last year.
Bush held talks with President Jalal Talabani and Maliki during the visit. Talabani called Bush a great friend of the Iraqi people "who helped us to liberate our country."
Maliki, who had a strained look on his face after the shoe-throwing, praised Bush: "You have stood by Iraq and the Iraqi people for a very long time, starting with getting rid of the dictatorship."
Though Iraq has slipped down the list of Americans' concerns as the recession-hit U.S. economy has taken centre stage, polls show most people think the war was a mistake.
About 140,000 U.S. troops will still b in Iraq nearly six years into a war that has killed more than 4,200 American military personnel and tens of thousands of Iraqis.
While the security situation in Baghdad and other parts of the country has significantly improved, violence remains a factor in Iraq's everyday life.
Problems continue to haunt the massive economic reconstruction program undertaken since the 2003 invasion.
The New York Times reported Sunday that an unpublished U.S. government report had found that U.S.-led efforts to rebuild Iraq were crippled by bureaucratic turf wars, violence and ignorance of the basic elements of Iraqi society, resulting in a 100-billion-dollar failure.
It cited a 513-page federal history of the reconstruction effort circulating in Washington in draft form among a tight circle of technical reviewers, policy experts and senior officials.
By mid-2008, the document said, 117 billion dollars had been spent on the reconstruction of Iraq, including about 50 billion in US taxpayer money.