March 12, 2009 -- An advance look at a new ABC News/BBC/NHK poll in Iraq shows broad public support for shoe-thrower Muntadhar al-Zeidi, the Iraqi journalist who chucked his footwear at then-President Bush during his visit to Baghdad in December.
Twenty-four percent of Iraqis see al-Zeidi as a criminal for assaulting a visiting foreign head of state. But 62 percent instead call him a hero, for expressing the views held by many Iraqi people. Al-Zeidi was sentenced to three years in prison in a Baghdad court today.
There are some differences in views of al-Zeidi among sectarian and ethnic groups. Among Sunni Arabs, who were favored under Saddam Hussein and long have been most hostile toward the United States, 84 percent call him a hero. It's 56 percent among Shiites (reportedly al-Zeidi's own doctrine), who are broadly critical of the United States but nevertheless were empowered by Saddam's overthrow. And among Kurds, long reliant on the United States for protection, far fewer – just 38 percent – see the shoe-thrower as a hero.
The ABC/BBC/NHK poll, the sixth in Iraq for ABC with media partners, is based on 2,228 face-to-face interviews with a random national sample of Iraqis. The full survey will be released early Monday; next week is the 6th anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Al-Zeidi was accused of assaulting a foreign leader, a charge that can carry up to 15 years. He's been lionized in much of the Arab world but is seen in other quarters as having embarrassed the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.
After the incident, Bush himself professed no concern. "So what if the guy threw his shoe at me?" he said. "It's one way to gain attention. It's like going to a political rally and having people yell at you. It's like driving down the street and having people not gesturing with all five fingers."