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Live in Baghdad

No, I did not see the shoes thrown at President Bush.

I arrived in Baghdad today and went directly to a neighborhood that I had followed for three years, where horrific sectarian killings had gone on and many families fled, but are now coming back. I wanted a quick reality check on whether the violence was down, and how long the improvements would last (I will write about this in my Wednesday column.)

The Bush trip was so secret that journalists weren't notified until he was already in the country. They then had to turn up at the press conference four hours early. By the time I finished my interviews and learned of the conference key bridges and roads were blocked around the city, and remained so for hours.  I finally made it by foot it into the Green Zone - the supposedly safe area - but security was so tight there that no one was being allowed anywhere near the prime minister's residence.

Guess that says something about the security situation five years on in Baghdad.

And then came the shoes.

What's so interesting here is that the shoe-throwing - a huge insult in the Arab world - is being taken as a huge insult to Prime Minister Maliki as well as President Bush.  In Iraqi culture the failure to protect a guest is shameful.

But the shoe-thrower, an Iraqi journalist, may still become a hero (although Iraqi TV has given very little coverage to the incident.)  What he did reflects the anger many Iraqis feel about Bush's handling of this war, even among Iraqis who wanted Saddam overthrown. In a grocery store near my hotel, where men were discussing the event, one elderly man said: "Imagine this happened in a press conference. Imagine if Bush walked through the streets."