An Iraqi reporter who hurled his shoes at former American President George W. Bush was released from prison on Tuesday and greeted as a hero as he described how he was tortured in prison.
Muntazer al-Zaidi, whose act of defiance during a news conference last December summed up the feelings of many Iraqis towards the former U.S. leader, was met outside jail by some parliamentarians who support his case.
Free but home is still a prison
"Today I am free again but my home is still a prison," he told reporters shortly after his release, a dig at the continued U.S. military presence in Iraq six and half years after the invasion to oust Saddam Hussein.
He was slurring his speech because of a missing tooth, but otherwise seemed in good health. His brothers alleged that Zaidi was beaten by guards after his arrest.
Zaidi added: "At the time that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said on television that he could not sleep without being reassured on my fate ... I was being tortured in the worst ways, beaten with electric cables and iron bars."
He said he wanted an apology from Maliki, adding that his guards had also used simulated drowning on him -- the technique of water-boarding used by the Americans on suspects arrested over the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.
"I am not a hero, but I have attitude and opinions," he said. "I feel humiliated to see my country suffer, my Baghdad burning, and my people killed."
Al-Baghdadia television showed footage of Zaidi arriving at its station surrounded by guards. He was wrapped in an Iraqi flag and wore black sunglasses. On arrival, the staff at his TV station slaughtered at least three sheep in his honor.
"The occupation invaded us under the pretext of liberation. It divided brothers, neighbors, it made our houses endless funeral tents and our streets cemeteries," he said, referring to the tit-for-tat sectarian slaughter unleashed by the invasion that has only subsided in the last two years.
A warm welcome
"Thanks be to God that Muntazer has seen the light of day," brother Uday said. "I wish Bush could see our happiness. When President Bush looks back and turns the pages of his life, he will see the shoes of Muntazer al Zaidi on every page."
At Zaidi's house, his family and a crowd of supporters eagerly awaiting him cheered and ululated.
"I feel proud because Zaidi lives in my neighborhood. I like telling people that," Arkan al-Fartousi, 25, carrying a jug of juice he was serving to thirsty supporters. "I'm so happy he's out from jail."
Venezuela's anti-American President Hugo Chavez called him courageous. A Libyan group headed by Gaddafi's daughter gave him an award. Fathers from other Arab nations have offered Zaidi their daughters as brides.
A late release
Zaidi has been behind bars ever since he shouted "it is the farewell kiss, you dog," at Bush on December 14 last year, seconds before hurling his size-10s at the man who ordered Iraq be invaded and occupied six and a half years ago.
The 30-year-old reporter was due to have been released on Monday legal red tape delayed his homecoming.
The reporter was initially sentenced to three years for assaulting a foreign head of state but had his jail time reduced to one year on appeal. His sentence was cut further on account of good behaviour.
Although Bush, who successfully ducked to avoid the speeding footwear, laughed off the attack, the incident caused massive embarrassment, to both him and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
The leaders had been speaking at a joint press conference in Baghdad on what was Bush's farewell visit to Iraq prior to being succeeded in office by then president-elect Barack Obama.