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Zakaria: Shoe-throwing incident shows good, bad of Iraq war

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  • Fareed Zakaria: Shoe-throwing incident shows Iraq is becoming more open society
  • Incident also focuses attention on what Iraq war has cost Iraqis, he says
  • Zakaria says incident is an embarrassment to many Iraqis
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Editor's note: Fareed Zakaria is a foreign affairs analyst who hosts "Fareed Zakaria: GPS" on CNN at 1 p.m. ET Sundays.

Fareed Zakaria

Fareed Zakaria says the shoe-throwing incident shows Iraq is becoming a more open society.

NEW YORK (CNN) -- The Iraqi journalist who hurled his shoes at President George W. Bush has won some hearts in neighboring Iran, where one cleric dubbed the act "the shoe intifada (rebellion).

Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati -- leading Friday prayers in Tehran -- hailed journalist Muntadhar al-Zaidi's now-famous fling last Sunday, when Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki were holding a news conference in Baghdad.

His remarks -- reported by Iran's state-run Islamic Republic News Agency -- reflect the support many Middle East people have shown for al-Zaidi, an Iraqi correspondent for Egypt-based Al-Baghdadia TV.

"The shoe intifada in Iraq should not be overlooked easily," Jannati said. "Well done to the Iraqi journalist for throwing the shoes at the U.S. president."

Speaking to worshipers at Tehran University, Jannati labeled the shoes "more valuable than crowns, medals and signs" and believes they should be placed in an Iraqi museum.

CNN spoke to world affairs expert and author Fareed Zakaria about the shoe-throwing incident

CNN: Do you think the shoe-throwing incident shows that Iraq is becoming an open society?

Fareed Zakaria: Yes, and President Bush was right that it represents a huge advance in freedom in the Middle East. There is quite simply no other Arab country in which that scene could have taken place.

And Iraq has, in other ways, become a reasonably open and democratic society -- though still a long way from a liberal democracy as we would define it.

CNN: So not a big deal -- just fodder for late-night comics?

Zakaria: Not quite -- what the shoe-throwing incident also reminded us of -- and this is something that Americans often forget -- is that whatever the gains in Iraq recently -- and they are undeniable and real -- the costs for Iraqis have been huge.

We focus on the costs to America -- hundreds of billions of dollars spent, more than four thousand American lives lost there.

But the costs to the Iraqis have been staggering

2.5 million Iraqis -- 10 percent of the population -- have left the country, and only a few are trickling back. Another 2 million have been displaced from their homes. Tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed and wounded -- and that may be underreported.

Maybe in the long run, if Iraq becomes a more decent society, these costs will fade into memory and the benefits will endure. But for now, as Muntadhar al-Zaidi's actions showed -- it is the costs that remain front and center in the Iraq consciousness.

CNN: How are Iraqis responding to the incident?

Zakaria: For many it is embarrassment --as former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq and the current U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Zalmay Khalilzad says on our show -- "I know it was painful to Prime Minister Maliki and many Iraqis who have been in touch with me since." And the Iraqis are going to prosecute al-Zaidi within their court system -- though they aren't completely sure how yet.

CNN: But it seems like he's become a hero for many in the Middle East.

Zakaria: Yes -- and that goes back to the enormous costs that the Iraqis have faced. However, his celebrity is not limited to the Middle East. In an act of reverse cultural imperialism, his act of frustration is now taking hold in the United States.

Earlier this week at a meeting of New York City's Metropolitan Transit Authority, an angry protester was dragged out as he attempted to throw his shoe at the authority's CEO. His last words before security got him: "this shoe is for you!"

All About Muntadhar al-ZaidiIraqZalmay Khalilzad

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