Bush Dodges Shoes on Farewell Iraq Visit

Dec 14, 2008 8:13am

ABC News’ Martha Raddatz reports from Baghdad:

President Bush’s fourth and final visit to Baghdad may not have been quite the fond farewell he had in mind. Amid official visits with Iraqi leaders, the president wound up having to dodge a pair of shoes thrown by a screaming Iraqi journalist.

The surprise trip, Bush’s first to Iraq since September 2007, was intended to celebrate a security pact between the U.S. and the Iraqi government.

Bush’s schedule included talks with Iraqi leaders, U.S. troops and officials stationed in Iraq.

But at a joint news conference held with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a man identified as Muntadhar al-Zaiydi, a local television correspondent, threw a shoe at Bush and yelled, "This is a farewell kiss, dog!" and, "This is the end!"

The shoe sailed right past the president’s head and the thrower was grabbed and dragged out of the room screaming.

Bush joked about it, saying, "That was a size 10 shoe he threw at me, you may want you to know."

The man’s screams were still audible after he had been taken to a separate room.

Displaying the soles of one’s shoes is considered a deep insult in much of the Arab world.

Despite the dramatically improved security in Iraq, every effort was made to keep the president’s travel plans quiet.

Reporters invited to make the trip were not told about it until Friday and were allowed to tell only one superior and a spouse.

By 7 p.m. Saturday, the reporters had assembled at Andrews Air Force Base, where they were escorted through an unmarked gate.

Secret Service agents took all the reporters’ cell phones, Blackberries and iPods. The group then was loaded into a black van and taken to a closed hangar where Air Force One, a massive 747, awaited.

The reporters were loaded onto the dark plane and told to keep their window shades down. Within an hour the president arrived by car at the hangar.

The president almost never comes to the back of the plane, but shortly after 9 p.m. he did come back.

He was dressed casually in a jacket and a baseball cap reading “43.” He joked with reporters that the plan for a secret departure had worked, and that no on had recognized him.

"They thought I was a different president,” he said.

Once the president returned to the front of the plane, the 747 was wheeled out of the hangar and took off in darkness, arriving in Baghdad in daylight more than 10 hours later.

Upon landing in Baghdad, the president was greeted by U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and the top general in Iraq, Ray Odierno.

Bush will leave office on Jan. 20 with Iraq remaining the defining issue of his presidency. Since the 2003 invasion of the country, more than 4,200 U.S. military men and women have been killed and the U.S. has spent nearly $600 billion fighting the war. The Status of Forces Agreement, a new U.S. and Iraqi security agreement that calls for U.S. troops to be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of 2011, will go into effect in January.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates made an unannounced stop in Iraq Saturday. Gates has been tapped by President-elect Barack Obama to remain in his post.

During the president election, Obama called for the careful removal of all U.S. combat troops within the first 16 months of his presidency. He has singled an interest in increasing U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan.

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