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.

On Tuesday, three bombings in Baghdad and another in the north killed four people and wounded at least 30.

Two police and two civilians were killed by a roadside bomb near Baghdad's Technical University and 13 other people were wounded, police said.

A car bomb near the city's Babylon Hotel wounded three people, including a security guard. The bomb went off as a convoy from the ministry of science went by, but the minister was not in the vehicles, police said.

Three police and three civilians were wounded by a roadside bomb directed at a police patrol near central Baghdad's Andalus Square, police said. Another roadside bomb against a police patrol near Saadiya in Diyala province wounded five police and three other people, Diyala security officials said.

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 U.S. to hand over detainees wanted by the Iraqis and release the rest.

© 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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