By Pepe Escobar
Munthather al-Zaidi, the 28-year-old Baghdad correspondent for the independent, anti-occupation, anti-sectarian, Cairo-based al-Baghdadiya satellite channel who sent Bush a “goodbye kiss from the Iraqi people” in the form of a flying pair of size 10s and instantly achieved folk hero status all over the Arab nation and across “the Internets” (copyright Bush), with a simple, graphically impeccable gesture brought to a close not only Bush’s ultra-secretive last stop in Iraq (a press conference with sometime US puppet Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki) but managed to sum up the whole Iraqi tragedy. No wonder he has been dubbed “the new Saladin” across the Arab world.
From now on three historic images will forever sum up the Bush administration-generated Iraqi tragedy: Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” stunt off San Diego harbor; the “black scarecrow” figure tortured at Abu Ghraib; and Iraq’s leather-soled kiss to the man who destroyed the country. The toppling of Saddam’s statue in Baghdad’s Firdous Square in April 9, 2003, was nothing but a staged event for US networks.
Al-Zaidi called Bush, in Arabic, at the top of his lungs, ya kalb (“you dog”) – now a legendary Youtube epithet that around the world has been largely interpreted as unfair to dogs, who for all their barking do not gang up and launch pre-emptive wars that cause more than 1 million deaths and displace more than 4 million people.
Before being taken down by US and Iraqi secret service ops, al-Zaidi still had time to yell, “This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq,” – a factual, journalistic response to the lies he had just endured from Bush, who in his prepared remarks pontificated on the “success” of the recent parliament-approved Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), a “success” Bush attributes to the troop “surge”.
For the record: SOFA, negotiated after an extremely turbulent eight months, rules that the US military must totally withdraw from Iraq by December 2011 (a real timeline, always fought by the Bush camp); there will be no military bases left behind; and the US military cannot use Iraq to attack Iran or anyone else. For all practical purposes – and of course barring inexorable Pentagon pressure over president-elect Barack Obama – the neo-colonial Bush war/occupation will be over by the end of 2011. Bush’s White House was so exultant with this “success” that it did not even publish a copy of SOFA in English.
The overwhelming majority of Sunni and Shi’ite Iraqis (but not the Kurds) want the end of the occupation – just like al-Zaidi. Before hurling his leather-soled missiles, al-Zaidi certainly had Bush’s true legacy in Iraq in mind, which includes hundreds of thousands of dead and “disappeared”, over 4 million internally and externally displaced, 70% unemployment, a lack of electricity, a lack of drinking water, a cholera epidemic, the balkanization of Baghdad – a shabby, dangerous collection of Sunni and Shi’ite ghettos separated by high blast walls – and the horrendously incompetent kleptocracy that calls itself the Iraqi parliament.
Everyone is guilty
These shoes also metaphorically hit the huge Bush administration army of advisers, analysts, sycophants, politicians, diplomats, generals, UN bureaucrats, businessmen, “human-rights” wags, media hacks and assorted profiteers that made the Iraqi tragedy possible. These shoes put to immense shame US public opinion, which overwhelmingly condoned the 2003 invasion and occupation and only turned against it when facts on the ground and horrific non-stop carnage spelled out that this was an “unwinnable” war.
For its part, US corporate media, with predictable inanity – or rather as still more evidence of its spinelessness in confronting the Bush administration – chose to endlessly dwell on Bush’s cat-like reflexes (“I saw his sole”) when he dodged al-Zaidi’s flying size 10s.
Predictably adding (real) injury to the insult, and therefore amplifying its already formidable impact, Iraqi TV al-Sharqiya reported that al-Zaidi is for all practical purposes being tortured at Camp Cropper – the sinister, sprawling, US-controlled Baghdad airport prison; and his older brother, Dargham, told the BBC he has a broken hand, broken ribs, an eye injury and suffers from internal bleeding. Al-Sharquiya also points to signs of torture on his thighs and an immobile right arm. Al-Sharqiya has had firsthand experience on the matter – they just lost four reporters who uncovered and reported widespread torture in Green Zone prisons.
Before al-Zaidi’s act became a global Internet sensation this past Monday, on Sunday al-Jazeera’s news anchor Layla Al-Sheikhly, an Iraqi, was the only one to report it properly; other Arab networks – mindful of hurting American feelings – blacked out the crucial “you dog” bit. Asad AbuKhalil, professor of politics at California State University, Stanislaus and editor of the Angry Arab blog, quipped, “The fellow would have preferred rotten eggs and tomatoes if they were as easy to sneak through the tight security checks as … shoes.”
As has been extensively reported in the Arab world, al-Zaidi graduated in journalism from Baghdad University, was an active member of the Iraqi Student Union before the invasion and has always been anti-occupation. After he graduated, he worked at al-Qasim al-Mushterek newspaper, an Iraqi daily founded after the invasion, then at the al-Diyar satellite channel, and finally joined the al-Baghdadiya satellite channel. The fact that he may be technically a “leftist” is irrelevant; his act has been hailed all over Iraq and the Arab nation (after all, Iraq is considered by Arabs as the eastern flank of the Arab nation) by Sunnis and Shi’ites, seculars and Islamists alike. He had already been kidnapped and tortured – by a Shi’ite militia – before.
Mobilization for al-Zaidi’s release before he is waterboarded to death is essential. Al-Jazeera’s Arabic channel reported that up to 100 Arab lawyers have volunteered to defend him. Street protests against his detention have been held in Baghdad, Mosul, Sunni Fallujah and Shi’ite Nassiriya. Technically, he is being “investigated” by the military command in charge of Baghdad security, headed by the sinister Mowaffaq al-Rubaie, Iraq’s national security adviser. He may face charges of insulting a foreign leader as well as Maliki, who was side-by-side with Bush – and get a maximum penalty of two years in jail.
I did it my way
Contrast the shoes targeting Bush with Bush’s last throes – his mandated “Operation Legacy” conducted by Texan Macchiavelli Karl Rove (consisting of a two-page list of talking points now endlessly spun by outgoing Bush administration officials to gullible corporate media). Instead, a real-life “Operation Legacy” shortlist should include all the aspects of the Bush doctrine (“In what respect, Charlie?”, as Sara “Barracuda” Palin would say); the destruction of Afghanistan and Iraq, with the option of illegal raids into the Pakistani tribal areas and a pre-emptive attack on Iran; the complete normalization of torture – and outsourcing of torture – as an “American value”; a monstrous national deficit that spells national bankruptcy; the destruction of the US economy; and a repressive police state which spies on its citizens – ripping the constitution and the Bill of Rights to shreds.
Only a few days before al-Zaidi’s act, in an interview published in the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, president-elect Barack Obama promised, “We’ve got a unique opportunity to reboot America’s image around the world and also in the Muslim world in particular … So we need to take advantage of that.”
If Obama really wants to seize the “opportunity” and “reboot” America’s image, he must convince the Muslim world that the US will renounce pre-emptive wars against Muslim countries; will stop demonizing them; will renounce the silly and misguided concept of “Islamofascism”; will practice an equitable foreign policy; and will not tolerate the slow-motion ethnic cleansing of Palestinians by the state of Israel. He could start with a speech in Baghdad. Not a Bush-style ultra-secretive appearance at a military base or in the Green Zone, but a speech in real-life, open-air Baghdad, in Firdous Square for instance.
Till then, this is what the US gets – a flicker of poetic justice still shining in the post-everything era: a little emperor cowering behind a lectern dodging a flying shoe.
Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.