President Bush Wraps Up Farewell War Zone Tour

Bush defends Iraq War, brushes off shoe throwing incident during Mideast tour.

ByABC News
December 15, 2008, 8:35 AM

Dec. 15, 2008— -- President Bush made his final swing as president through two war zones Monday, visiting with troops that he sent to Iraq and Afghanistan and will soon turn over to a new commander in chief.

Surely the most unexpected point in the carefully scripted, two-day presidential trip came when a reporter threw his shoes at the president during a press conference in Baghdad, both of which Bush artfully dodged from behind the podium.

"This is your farewell kiss, you dog!" the reporter shouted in Arabic while hurling one shoe, and then the other. The reporter was later identified as Muntadar al-Zeidi, a correspondent for Al-Baghdadia television, an Iraqi-owned station based in Cairo, Egypt.

In Iraqi culture, throwing shoes at someone is a sign of contempt. Iraqis whacked a statue of Saddam Hussein with their shoes after U.S. Marines toppled it to the ground following the 2003 invasion.

It was a moment Bush described as "bizarre."

"I'm not insulted. I don't hold it against the government," Bush told ABC News in an exclusive interview. "The guy wanted to get on TV and he did. I don't know what his beef is, but whatever it is, I'm sure someone will hear it."

The reporter could be heard wailing and crying as security dragged him away from the press conference. At first, others at the press conference were unsure as to what was being tossed -- one reporter thought it was a grenade as it sailed by her head.

Later, the president tried to put a funny spin on the event.

"Anyone got any shoe jokes? I am going to need them!" he said on Air Force One as he left Iraq.

He had one for himself.

"I didn't know what the guy said, but I saw his sole," he joked to reporters.

Despite his jokes, the president appeared irritated after the event, perhaps knowing the incident would dominate headlines rather than his message to the troops.

Reaction in Iraq was swift but mixed, with some condemning the act and others applauding it. Television news stations throughout the country repeatedly showed footage of the incident, and newspapers carried headline stories.