In the outskirts of Baghdad, the capital of Iraq, the streets have no names, the garbage is not collected, the roads are not maintained.
It is in this area, in an unassuming brick house, that 48-year-old Muntazer al-Zaidi lives with his wife and daughter.
A small garden separates the dusty road from his house.
Zaidi has been in the global spotlight for over a decade. His life changed on December 14, 2008, when he threw his shoe at then-US President George W. Bush during a press conference in Baghdad.
“This is the Iraqi people’s kiss goodbye, dog,” he yelled in Arabic as he threw his first shoe at Bush. “This is for the widows, the orphans and all those who were killed in Iraq,” he shouted as he threw his second shoe.
The video was shown on news shows around the world. The relatively unknown Iraqi journalist suddenly became a face of resistance for some, a rioter for others. Now, two decades after the US-led invasion of Iraq, he said his country is still paying the price.
After the meeting, Zaidi was arrested. He said that he was tortured by Iraqi security forces while in custody. In recent years, he said, the Iraqi media has stayed away from him because “they don’t want to be associated with someone who is anti-American.
“Even those who say they hate America are afraid to face this fact,” he said.
Zaidi also has a loyal following.
Today, 15 years after the press conference, Zaidi’s views on the USA have not changed.
“How can I forgive?” He asked. “These people committed these atrocities against my brother, my neighbor, my father, and at least they did not apologize, nor [are they] going to trial and they’re still at large.”
He pointed to Russia’s war in Ukraine, adding that “the whole world is crying for Ukraine now, but we were under occupation and nobody even supported us. Some of them even supported the Americans, and if they didn’t, they just kept their mouths shut.”
Zaidi described his action in a press conference as “a kind of cry” or an attempt to draw the world’s attention to his country. He wanted to say that not all Iraqis embraced the Americans at the start of the invasion, as he said the Americans described it. In reality, many Iraqis were suffering.
On the day of the conference, Zaidi said she chose her dirtiest, oldest shoes. As if to add insult to injury.
He said he went in expecting to be killed. So he chose his seat carefully, choosing the one in the last row. His thinking was that if he was shot, no one would come after him.
Zaidi had planned and prepared for a day to show his anger towards the US President. In 2005, he made a video stating that he was not paid by anyone and was not affiliated with any group.
But his anger isn’t just at Americans. Iraq, he said, has gone from bad to worse. In 2011, he joined the protests against the Iraqi government.
“The Iraqi government is run by Iran,” he said. “Our politicians are manipulated by the neighboring countries. Iranian influence, illiteracy, corrupt politicians, media blackouts and corruption are the legacy of the US invasion.”
As for his shoes, Zaidi said he didn’t know. He suspects that the Americans shredded them to prevent his supporters from turning them into symbols.
Alaa Mahsub Muhammad contributed to the reporting of this story.