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Official: Shoe-Thrower in Iraqi Judicial Custody

BAGHDAD (AP) - The journalist who threw his shoes at President
George W. Bush was handed over to the Iraqi judiciary, an Iraqi
official said Tuesday, a move that ordinarily signals the start of
criminal proceedings.
Hundreds took to the streets Tuesday for a second day to demand
the release of Muntadhar al-Zeidi, who gained folk hero status when
he hurled both his shoes at Bush during a news conference Sunday in
Baghdad.
Al-Zeidi was initially held by the prime minister's guards and
later turned over to the Iraqi army's Baghdad command. The command,
in turn, handed him over to the judiciary, the official said on
condition of anonymity because he wasn't supposed to release the
information.
The official would not elaborate, but referring the case to the
judiciary usually signals the beginning of a lengthy process that
could end in a criminal trial. Cases referred to the judiciary are
given to a judge who reviews the evidence and recommends whether to
hold a trial or release the defendant.
Another panel then sets a trial date and appoints judges to hear
the case. The process can take months.
Earlier, Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim
Khalaf said al-Zeidi could face charges of insulting a foreign
leader and the Iraqi prime minister, who was standing next to Bush
when the shoes were thrown. The offense carries a maximum penalty
of two years in jail.
Many Iraqis, however, believe al-Zeidi was a hero for insulting
an American president widely blamed for the chaos that has engulfed
their country since the U.S.-led invasion of 2003.
In Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, located north of Baghdad,
an estimated 1,000 protesters carried banners and chanted slogans
demanding al-Zeidi's release.
A couple of hundred more also protested Tuesday in Nasiriyah, a
Shiite city about 200 miles southeast of Baghdad, and Fallujah, a
Sunni area west of the capital.
"Muntadhar al-Zeidi has expressed the feelings and ambitions of
the Iraqi people toward the symbol of tyranny," said Nassar
Afrawi, a protester in Nasiriyah.
In Baghdad, Noureddin al-Hiyali, a lawmaker of the main Sunni
bloc in parliament, defended al-Zeidi's actions and said he
believed the reporter was likely motivated by the invasion of Iraq,
the "dismantling of the Iraqi government, destroying the
infrastructure," - all events he blamed on the Bush
administration.
"International law approves peoples' right to resist occupation
using all means and Mr. Muntadhar al-Zeidi endeavored to resist
occupation in his own manner," al-Hiyali said.
He urged the government to take that into consideration when
deciding what to do with al-Zeidi.
The head of the Iraqi Union of Journalists described al-Zeidi's
action as "strange and unprofessional" but urged Prime Minister
Nouri al-Maliki to give him clemency.
"Even if he has committed a mistake, the government and the
judiciary are broad-minded, and we hope they consider his release
because he has a family, and he is still young," Mouyyad al-Lami
told AP Television News. "We hope this case ends before going to
court."
The perception of al-Zeidi as a hero reflects Arab animosity
toward Bush for the 2003 invasion of Iraq and dissatisfaction with
the president's handling of foreign policy matters in the Middle
East.
That hostility has persisted even though violence has dropped by
more than 80 percent in Iraq since earlier this year when car
bombings and gunfights throughout the country were rampant.
Nevertheless, Iraqi security forces and U.S. troops continue to
be targeted by insurgents.
A roadside bomb targeting an Iraqi police patrol exploded in
central Baghdad's Andalus Square Tuesday, wounding three police
officers and three civilians, said Iraqi police officer Salam
Mohammed.
The U.S. military said in a written statement that troops killed
three suspected insurgents and detained three others in separate
operations targeting al-Qaida networks in northern Iraq.
Also Tuesday, the U.S. military announced it had transferred the
last 10 female detainees in its custody in Iraq to the authorities
the day before.
A U.S. statement said the women have either been convicted of a
security-related offense or are due to stand trial in the Central
Criminal Court of Iraq.
The U.S. still holds about 15,500 detainees, down dramatically
from the high of about 26,000 in November 2007.
The U.S.-Iraqi security agreement that goes into effect next
month requires the United States to hand over detainees wanted by
the Iraqis and release the rest.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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