One can scarcely read a newspaper or turn on a television anywhere on the planet without seeing the face of Iraqi Journalist Muntadar al-Zeidi, or failing that seeing one or both of his shoes flying past the head of the President of the United States. But where did this 29 year old journalist, the new-found symbol of Iraqi opposition to the American military presence, come from? More importantly, where is he going?
Western audiences are unlikely to have heard of Zeidi before, or if they have only as a faceless reporter briefly kidnapped in Baghdad and released without incident. Even in Iraq, he is just another journalist for a relatively minor television station, hardly a prominent figure at all in a nation full of reporters looking to make a name for themselves covering the violence of the past several years.
His elder brother Durgham describes Muntadar as a “rather nervous type” who devotes most of his time to his career. His family says his November kidnapping and his inexplicable arrest by US forces just two months later led him to a deep resentment for both the US military presence and Iran’s influence on Iraq’s political affairs.
They insist the act was spontaneous, but co-workers insist he planned it for months, perplexing since the Bush visit was itself unannounced. Whatever led up to the move, Zeidi entered the room a relatively anonymous journalist and emerged a folk hero.
The Iraqi government condemned Zeidi for his “shameful, savage act” and though he has yet to be formally charged, he could face seven years in prison for the incident. He was dragged from the room by security forces where witnesses say he was beaten. His shoes have been taken as evidence, and he is being interrogated to determine if he acted alone.
Officials have yet to disclose where he is being held, though al-Sharqiya TV claims he is held in the infamous US-run Camp Cropper. The camp, meant for “high value detainees,” has been a popular location for media members swept up by US forces over the past several years. Perhaps the most ominous aspect of this possibility is the announcement today that an unnamed 25-year-old detainee at the campdied of ” an apparently heart attack.”