By Larry Derfner, Mideast Watch
The Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at former President George W. Bush has been sentenced to three years in prison. Muntandher al-Zaidi also called Bush a "dog" during the ex-president's December 14 joint news conference in Baghdad with Iraqi President Nouri al-Maliki, and the defendant's family shouted the same epithet at judges following the sentencing. Muntandher says he was tortured in custody. The Qatar-based satellite TV station Al Jazeera reports:
The journalist, who became a hero to many Iraqis after the December 14 incident, arrived at the court under a heavy police escort. Asked if he was innocent, al-Zaidi responded: "Yes, my reaction was natural, just like any Iraqi (would have done)." After the verdict on Thursday, al-Zaidi's 25-strong defense team emerged from the courtroom to scenes of chaos. Several family members screamed: "It's an American court ... sons of dogs."
Iraqi Press Freedom is Deceptive
News media have flourished in Iraq since Saddam Hussein's fall in 2003, with some 200 print publications, 60 radio stations, and 30 TV channels in five different languages. However, most of the news outlets are partly funded by Iraq's myriad sectarian factions and political parties, and the coverage obediently reflects those biases. So while there is now freedom of the press in Iraq, that freedom does not extend to journalists so much as it does to those who pay their salaries. The Dubai-based satellite TV station Al Arabiya reports:
Six years ago, Iraqis opening the morning newspaper found Saddam Hussein's face splashed across the front page day after day, and TV channels offered little more than the martial leader's interminable speeches. Today, newsstands hawk dozens of papers and the airwaves are packed with channels. Yet most media outlets remain dominated by sectarian and party patrons who use them for their own ends, and have yet to become commercially sustainable enterprises let alone watchdogs keeping government under scrutiny, the favored Western model. "The real problem here is that all sides will be practicing self-censorship on issues relating to their own direct interests," said Ammar al-Shahbander, who heads the Baghdad office of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting.
Cuddling up in Saddam's Bed
And in the central Iraqi city of Hillah, where Saddam Hussein kept one of his presidential palaces, newlyweds on honeymoon can now rent the bedroom where Saddam slept. The pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Alawsat reports that the decision was taken to boost tourism to the region:
The director of the Al-Hillah Presidential Palace resort informed journalists yesterday that "the bedroom of former President Saddam Hussein is available for rent to newlyweds for 200,000 Iraqi Dinars [IQD], which is equivalent to $180 dollars, per night." He added that "this room is only one among many in the Presidential Palace that also includes 31 [other] suites, which are also available for rent at prices ranging from between 75,000 IQD and 200,000 IQD"
- Read more of Larry Derfner's Mideast Watch.