Iraqis demand journalist's release

BAGHDAD - Thousands of Iraqis took to the streets Monday to demand the release of a reporter who threw his shoes at President George W. Bush in anger at U.S. policies, as support for the act and the journalist flowed in from across the Arab world.

The protests came as suicide bombers and gunmen targeted Iraqi police, plus U.S.-allied Sunni guards and civilians, in a series of attacks Monday that killed at least 17 people and wounded more than a dozen others, officials said.

The journalist, Muntadhar al-Zeidi, was being held by Iraqi security Monday and interrogated about whether anybody had paid him to throw his shoes at Bush during a news conference Sunday in Baghdad, said an Iraqi official.

He was also being tested for alcohol and drugs, and his shoes were held as evidence, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

Showing the sole of your shoe to someone in the Arab world is a sign of extreme disrespect, and throwing your shoes is even worse. Iraqis whacked a statue of Saddam Hussein with their shoes after U.S. Marines toppled it after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

Iraqi security guards wrestled al-Zeidi to the ground immediately after he tossed his shoes.

Bush was not hit by the shoes, but White House press secretary Dana Perino suffered an eye injury when she was hit in the face with a microphone during the melee.

On Monday, reporters were repeatedly searched and asked to show identification before entering the heavily guarded Green Zone, where the press conference took place.

Newspapers across the Arab world printed front-page photos of Bush ducking the flying shoes, and satellite TV stations repeatedly aired the incident, which was hailed by the president's many critics in the region.

Many are fed up with U.S. policy and still angry over Bush's decision to invade Iraq in 2003 to topple Saddam.

As many as 98,000 Iraqi civilians may have been killed since the war began, according to Iraq Body Count, an independent organization that tracks media reports as well as official figures. The war has cost nearly $576 billion so far, according to the National Priorities Project.

Wafa Khayat, 48, a doctor in the West Bank town of Nablus, called the attack 'a message to Bush and all the U.S. policy makers that they have to stop killing and humiliating people.'

In Jordan, a strong U.S. ally, a 42-year-old businessman, Samer Tabalat, praised al-Zeidi as 'the man. ... He did what Arab leaders failed to do.'

Al-Zeidi's TV station, Al-Baghdadia, repeatedly aired pleas to release the reporter Monday, while showing footage of explosions and playing background music that denounced the U.S. military presence in Iraq.

'We have all been mobilized to work on releasing him,' said Abdel-Hameed al-Sayeh, the manager of Al-Baghdadia in Cairo, where the station is based.