Iraqi Police Detain Local Reporter Who Threw Shoes at Bush During Farewell Baghdad Visit

Bush, in Baghdad to meet with Iraqi leaders on recent security agreement, makes light of situation.

An Iraqi television news reporter threw his shoes at U.S. President George W. Bush and called him a "dog" in Arabic, during a press conference in Baghdad on Sunday, U.S. television station ABC has reported.

Muntadar al-Zeidi was being interrogated over whether anybody paid him to throw his shoes at Bush and was being tested for alcohol and drugs, said an Iraqi official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

Al-Zeidi's colleagues said the journalist was kidnapped last year by Shiite militias and released after his TV station, Al-Baghdadia, intervened.

The Shiite journalist, who is in his late 20s, was being held at the headquarters of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, said the official. His shoes were being held as evidence, he added.

Al-Baghdadia repeatedly aired pleas to release al-Zeidi on Monday, while showing footage of explosions and playing background music that denounced the U.S. in Iraq.

"We have all been mobilized to work on releasing him, and all the organizations around the world are with us," said Abdel-Hameed al-Sayeh, the manager of Al-Baghdadia in Cairo, where the station is based. "This whole thing is putting the Iraqis and the Americans to a test. Are they going to release him or try him?"

Al-Jazeera television interviewed Saddam Hussein's chief lawyer Khalil al-Dulaimi, who offered to defend al-Zeidi, calling him a hero.

Some Palestinians, whose hopes of independent statehood have withered in the eight-year Bush era, also relished the moment.

"A shoe company in Hebron claimed the attack on Bush and they will give the attacker shoes all his life," runs one joke being exchanged on mobile telephones in the Gaza Strip.

Iraqi security officers and U.S. secret service agents on Sunday leapt at the man within seconds of the incident and dragged him struggling and screaming out of the room where Bush was giving a news conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

The shoes missed their target about 15 feet away. One sailed over Bush's head as he stood next to Maliki and smacked into the wall behind him. Bush smiled uncomfortably and Maliki looked strained.

"It doesn't bother me," Bush said, urging everyone to calm down as a ruckus broke out in the conference room.

When asked about the incident shortly after, Bush made light of it. "I didn't feel the least threatened by it," he said, adding: "Whoever it interests - it was a size ten that he threw at me."

In Arab cultures being attacked with shoes is a sign of profound disrespect, as is being compared to a canine.

Bush on Sunday made a farewell visit to Iraq, a place that defines his presidency, just 37 days before he hands the war off to a successor who has pledged to end it.

Air Force One landed at Baghdad International Airport in the afternoon, after a secretive Saturday night departure from Washington and an 11-hour flight. In a sign of modest security gains in this war zone, Bush was welcomed with a formal arrival ceremony - a flourish that was not part of his previous three trips to Iraq.

Bush planned a quick series of meetings with senior Iraqi leaders, including Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. He and Bush were marking the recent security agreement between the two nations.

Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, said the agreement was a remarkable document - unique in the Arab world because it was publicly debated, discussed and adopted by an elected parliament.

Hadley said the trip shows "that we are moving into a different relationship... with Iraqis rightfully exercising greater sovereignty, we in an increasingly subordinate role."

It was Bush's last trip to the war zone before President-elect Barack Obama takes office Jan. 20. Bush's most recent Iraq stop was over 15 months ago, in September 2007.