(CNN) - First Lady Laura Bush said that although she “wasn’t amused” when an Iraqi journalist threw shoes at her husband, she sees the incident as a sign that “Iraqis feel a lot freer to express themselves.”
Earlier this month, an Iraqi journalist threw shoes at President Bush during a news conference in Baghdad. Bush ducked, and the shoes, flung one at a time, sailed past his head.
“It was an assault. And that's what it is,” the first lady said in an interview that aired Sunday on “Fox News.”
“And the president laughed it off. He wasn't hurt. He's very quick. As you know, he's a natural athlete. And that's it. But on the other hand, it is an assault, and I think it should be treated that way,” she said.
During the incident, the shoe-thrower - identified as Muntadhar al-Zaidi – could be heard yelling in Arabic: "This is a farewell ... you dog!" Al-Zaidi is an Iraqi journalist with Egypt-based al-Baghdadia television network.
Hurling shoes at someone, or sitting so that the bottom of a shoe faces another person, is considered an insult among Muslims.
Asked if she thinks someone who attacks another person should be released, Bush said, “that’s going to be up to the Iraqis.”
“And they'll do whatever. But I know that if Saddam Hussein had been there, the man wouldn't have been released. And he probably wouldn't - you know, would have been executed.
“So it is - as bad as the incident is, in my view, it is a sign that Iraqis feel a lot freer to express themselves,” she said.
Muntadhar al-Zaidi goes on trial Wednesday (Dec. 31) on charges of assaulting a foreign leader. Conviction could mean a prison sentence of up to two years.