BAGHDAD — Shiite Muslim clerics Friday called for the release of the Iraqi journalist sentenced to three years in prison for throwing his shoes at then-President George W. Bush.
Sheik Suhail Uqabi, a follower of anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada Sadr, said the sentence imposed on Muntathar Zaidi is "a verdict against the Iraqi people who refuse the American occupation" of Iraq.
Efforts to release detained Sadr loyalists and others who have opposed the U.S. presence also should be expedited, Uqabi said in his sermon in Baghdad's Sadr City area.
Zaidi's brazen act during a December news conference conducted by Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has turned the 30-year-old TV reporter into a folk hero in the Arab world.
On Thursday, a court sentenced him to three years in prison on an assault conviction. Zaidi had pleaded not guilty and said his action was prompted by anger over Bush's claims of victory in a war that has devastated this country.
A Shiite cleric in the Sadr stronghold of Kufa also condemned the prison sentence.
The speed of the trial, which took two relatively brief hearings, was likely to feed widespread suspicion among Iraqis that Maliki's U.S.-backed government orchestrated the process, although defense lawyers said they had no evidence of interference.
Iraqi police said Friday that a bomb in the south Baghdad neighborhood of Dora killed a woman and wounded a boy. A roadside bomb also struck a police patrol in east Baghdad, wounding four officers.