The other shoe has dropped. Perhaps. According to the Iraqi prime minister's spokesman, Muntadhar al-Zeidi, the ostensible Iraqi journalist who hurled his shoes at President Bush has apologized for his "ugly act" and asked Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to pardon him.
According to spokesman Yassin Majid, Prime Minister Maliki received the letter a day after the shoe-throwing incident had utterly overshadowed the reason for Bush's visit –- the signing of the so-called "SOFA," the status of forces agreement which provides a schedule for America's withdrawal from its unpopular engagement in Iraq and the rules governing America's presence there until then.
The "first day story," of course, was the dramatic shoe throw and the president's artful dodging of the flying projectiles –- a "size 10," Bush joked after the incident. This was followed by the inevitable pictures of Iraqis protesting the journalist's arrest amid burning American flags, jubilant crowds throughout Arab capitals celebrating their new "hero," and offers of millions of dollars from wealthy Arabs eager to acquire one of the iconic shoes. (The shoes have been destroyed in testing for chemical residue, the Iraqi government said Thursday.) Jordan's parliament held a minute of silence in his honor while the head of its foreign affairs committee read an ode to him. A charity headed by Aisha Qaddafi, the daughter of Libya's strongman, whose country the Bush Administration recently removed from the terrorist list, gave Zeidi its "courage award" for what she called his blow for "human rights across the world." Al-Jazeera's hugely popular Web site said that 90 percent of the thousands of comments it got praised Zeidi and condemned Bush as a war criminal who deserved to die – -or as Zeidi called him, a "dog" whose war had killed thousands of Iraqis.
A few American and Arab commentators defended Bush and criticized Zeidi's sabotage, so to speak. K.T. McFarland, a former Pentagon official and fellow FOX Forum columnist, and Nibras Kazimi, an Iraqi who fled Saddam Hussein's brutal regime and now blogs from America for the Hudson Institute, among others, noted that in Saddam's Iraq, Zeidi would be a dead man, along with his family and friends.
But most of the Arab and even the American media exulted in the "Saturday Night Live"-like moment, saying it reflected the depth of Arab hatred of Bush and his war, as well as his unilateralist and pro-Israeli policies in the Middle East.
How disappointed they must all be now that their new-found hero has apparently recanted and issued a groveling plea for clemency. Maliki's spokesman said that Zeidi's letter recalled the "kindness" Maliki had shown him during an interview in 2005 and asked for the same dose again. The 29-year old superstar has had a penchant for putting himself in harm's way. He was apparently detained last year for three days by an unknown militia but eventually released without ransom, and later by American forces, who have yet to comment on the claim. Little is also known about the financiers of al-Baghdadiya, the Cairo-based, privately owned TV station that employs him. Nor do we really know if or why Zeidi chose to recant. His brother is skeptical. Perhaps Zeidi did not relish the idea of spending years in an Iraqi jail for "insulting a foreign leader." Reports that he was too beaten up to appear in court prompted expressions of concern from, paradoxically, the U.S. State Department, which said it would condemn any "unnecessary use of force" against him.
To settle the issue of whether Zeidi did, or did not regret his action and seek forgiveness, the Maliki government should release his letter immediately and grant a limited number of journalists access to him to verify whether or not he wrote it – voluntarily. If he did, the images will undoubtedly outlast his personal fame.