The Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at U.S. President George W. Bush in a supreme insult has suddenly become the talk of Iraq as Saddam’s former lawyer said he is forming a team to defend him.
The little known Shiite reporter said to have harbored anger against Bush for the thousands of Iraqis who died after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, had previously made headlines only once, when he was briefly kidnapped by unknown gunmen in 2007.
TV reporter Muntazer al-Zaidi remained in detention on Monday, accused by the Iraqi government of a "barbaric act."
His employer, independent Al-Baghdadiya television demanded his immediate release, "in accordance with the democratic era and the freedom of expression that Iraqis were promised by U.S authorities."
Saddam Hussein's former lawyer said on Monday that he was forming a team to defend the Iraqi journalist who hurled his shoes at US President George W. Bush during his farewell visit to Baghdad.
"So far around 200 Iraqi and other lawyers, including Americans, have expressed willingness to defend the journalist for free," the Amman-based Khalil al-Dulaimi told AFP.
"I took the decision on Sunday night to defend the man after the incident. I am currently contacting Arab bar associations to form a defence committee."
Zaidi jumped up as Bush was holding a press conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Sunday, shouted "It is the farewell kiss, you dog" and threw two shoes at the U.S. leader.
Both missed after Bush ducked but Zaidi was dragged struggling and screaming from the room by security guards and could be heard shouting outside while the news conference continued after momentary mayhem.
“It was the least thing for an Iraqi to do to Bush, the tyrant criminal who has killed two million people in Iraq and Afghanistan," said Dulaimi. "Zaidi should be released immediately."
The Iraqi government said Zaidi had carried out "a barbaric and ignominious act" that did not correspond to the role of the media.
"At the same time that we condemn this ignominious act, we call on the television channel of this reporter to deliver a public apology for this act which sullies the reputation of all Iraqi journalists and the whole media," the media centre of the council of ministers said in a statement.
Al-Baghdadiya television demanded Zaidi's immediate release, "in accordance with the democratic era and the freedom of expression that Iraqis were promised by U.S authorities."
It said that any harsh measures taken against the reporter would be reminders of the "dictatorial era" that Washington said its forces invaded Iraq to end.
Zaidi, now in his late 20s, spent more than two days blindfolded, barely eating and drinking, after armed men forced him into a car as he walked to work in November 2007.
He said at the time that the kidnappers had beaten him until he lost consciousness, and used his necktie to blindfold him and bound his hands with his shoelaces.
He never learned the identity of the kidnappers, who questioned him about his work but did not demand a ransom.