Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zaidi, who became famous for throwing shoes at the US President George W. Bush at a press conference with the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in 2008, answered questions on the contemporary situation in Iraq for UWI.
Since October 1, 2019, anti-government demonstrations have continued across Iraq on various issues, including corruption, lack of public services and unemployment. Muntadhar Al-Zaidi has been at the forefront of the recent demonstrations.
Al-Zaidi took part in the January 24 protests in Baghdad calling for the country to expel US forces. More than a million people participated in the demonstrations. We asked about the meaning behind the protests and what the Iraqi people want for the future of their country.
Q: The Iraqi people have been demonstrating on the streets since the 2019. In total 467 people had died, and more than 9,000 people were injured during these demonstrations. What do the Iraqi people really want?
A: The Iraqi people reject the government structure which was formed after the American invasion. The model of government they imposed on us has brought nothing but destruction to the country. It has brought sectarianism. It has brought separatism. The Iraqi people are being governed poorly, corruption is at its highest point… the politicians only think about themselves. We want the end of this political regime, we want the government’s resignation.
Q: While we have witnessed several large anti-government demonstrations, on January 24th, over a million Iraqis came together to oppose US military presence. Why is that?
A: The Iraqi parliament made the decision to remove all the foreign forces from the country, but the US administration refuses to comply. The Iraqi government has failed to do what is necessary and implement the decision they made. This is why the Iraqi people protested on January 24, but it is worth noting that these demonstrations are not separate from those which began on October 1. These are all moments of a common struggle against the US, which has turned Iraq into a battlefield for its proxy wars. We are against the presence of all foreign forces in our country, including the United States, Saudi Arabia and even Iran.
Q: The Iraqi prime minister recently resigned and the government is restructuring. What are your expectations and predictions for the future of the country?
A: The prime minister’s resignation is not enough. We want a completely new government model and a change in the governmental structure that the United States brought with when it invaded. We will remain on the streets until we get what we want. Of course, our biggest demand is a free and independent Iraq without foreign intervention, and a fair government that takes care of its people, without massive corruption.
On January 3, the United States launched a drone strike on the convoy of General Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. Abu Mahdi, the deputy chief of Iraq’s Hashd al-Shaabi, was also present. The two commanders were both killed in the attack at a Baghdad Airport. On January 5, the Iraqi parliament decided to expel all US troops and all other foreign forces in the country, but the US administration responded saying that it would not comply with the decision. On January 8, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps announced that they had hit the US’ Ayn al-Asad Air Base in Iraq with dozens of ballistic missiles in response.
Who is Muntadhar Al-Zaidi?
Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zaidi became famous after he threw his shoes at President George W. Bush in 2008 during a press conference with the former Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki. “This is a farewell kiss from the Iraqi people, you dog!” al-Zaidi had shouted as he threw his first shoe at Bush, and then shouted, “This is for the widows and orphans and all those killed in Iraq,” as he threw his other shoe. Al-Zaidi explained his actions saying, “When I threw the shoe in the face of the criminal, George Bush, I wanted to express my rejection of his lies, his occupation of my country, and my rejection of his killing my people.” At the time there were calls throughout the Middle East to place the shoes in an Iraqi museum, but the shoes were later destroyed by US and Iraqi security forces. Al-Zaidi was sentenced to nearly a year in prison for his action and tortured by the US soldiers, but became a symbol for the country’s resistance movement. Al-Zaidi’s protest has inspired similar incidents of political protest around the world.