In what many experts believe is a major breakthrough in the war against terrorism, weapons of mass destruction have finally been discovered in Iraq. "This is a significant development and conclusively proves that, under the Saddam Hussein regime, weapons of mass destruction had at least a toehold in the country", said recently dismissed New York Times reporter Judith Miller in an explosive interview outside the building of her former employer. The author, who has recently been criticized for her pre-war articles alleging that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, says that she feels "vindicated" and that for her critics "the shoe is now on the other foot."
The existence of the weapons came to light in a fierce December 4th attack on the former Iraqi prime minister Ayad Allawi at a mosque in Najaf. Allawi, a strong supporter of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, was visiting the mosque as part of his campaign to run for parliament in the Dec. 15 Iraqi elections. In the course of his visit, the former prime minister was pelted with a hail of shoes thrown by angry worshippers believed to be supporters of the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
"It was horrible. Shoes coming from this direction and that direction. We ran for our lives", said an Allawi aide who asked to remain anonymous. Immediately after the attack, a shaken Mr. Allawi held an impromptu press conference, announcing that the attack was part of a well-orchestrated plot to assassinate him and "derail the process towards a democratic Iraq."
"Throwing shoes at someone is a sign of extreme contempt in Iraqi culture", Oxford University political scientist J. Clement Cheedles said today. But added that "there is something much more sinister going on with this attack." According to him, there is a consensus among terrorism experts that shoes used as projectiles are not to be taken lightly. Indeed, the first recorded death from a hurled shoe was in the year 482 BC in Athens, when Ankliodosus the Elder was assassinated by a jealous wife. Since then, explains Professor Cheedles, shoes have been greatly improved in their sophistication, and many people have been killed. In the last one hundred years alone, at least 7 people have died because of thrown shoes, and "the carnage continues on into this century with no sign of abating".
Cheedles cautions that people underestimate the power of these weapons. "They are becoming the weapons of choice for a number of terrorist organizations", he says. "One shoe may not seem like a lot, but the lethal effect increases exponentially with the number thrown." The senior U.S. commander in Iraq, General George W. Casey, notes chillingly that there are an estimated 26 million people wearing shoes in Iraq and millions more spare ones stockpiled in closets or under beds. However, he also clarifies that "our target is not the ordinary Iraqi who loves democracy and likes to wear shoes for lounging around the house or visiting the local market, but rather the fanatical terrorist minority who insists on throwing them at the genuine political leaders of Iraq in a fruitless attempt to stop the march forward of freedom."
The U.S. military command in Iraq cordoned off the mosque where the attempted assassination of Allawi took place, and forensic experts are examining the many "ambulatory projectiles" (which is military parlance for "thrown shoes") still strewn across the floor of the deserted mosque. In a more recent development, several hundred barefoot men have been arrested in the streets of Najaf, and U.S. Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld has indicated that some of these suspected enemy combatants may be sent to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba for further interrogation. Responding to Congressional critics who are suggesting such an action may be "overkill", Rumsfeld warned that, although the existence of the projectiles is not quite a "smoking gun", they do fit the category of "stinking shoe". He went on to say that investigators suspect that the seized shoes have been secretly made in Iran and Syria and supplied to arch-terrorists such as Abu Musab Zaqarwi in Iraq. If this is the case, he says, Coalition forces have not ruled out taking appropriate action. "We will cut the insurgency off at the knees wherever we have to go."
Nearer to home, a spokesperson for Homeland Security, Kerry Healey, cautioned on CNN that a terrorist attack using shoes is inevitable in the U.S. Our political leaders, right up to the President, are especially vulnerable. He estimates that there are at least 897 million shoes in the U.S. today. "Even my wife has got a closet full of them", he pointed out to reporters. In that respect, he said, airport security has been "way ahead of all of us" by requiring that passengers take off their shoes when passing through electronic sensors at airports. In the past, many passengers have complained about what they consider to be a bizarre and unnecessary practice.
In light of the recent attack, an unnamed White House official has informed reporters that President Bush is considering proclaiming a mandatory "shoe registration" program that is expected to cost $3.2 billion over the next five years. With the exception of infants under two years of age and amputees, all citizens will be required to carry a permit while wearing shoes in public places. The National Shoe Manufacturer's Association has responded by threatening to launch a class action lawsuit on behalf of all shoe owners in the U.S. "Wearing shoes is a constitutional right that cannot be overturned solely by Presidential decree", it said in a press release. "Such a law is a kick in the teeth to all patriotic Americans."
Leading neo-conservative commentator, Irving Keyhole, has waded into the debate and criticized those who demonize the U.S. for its large nuclear arsenal, yet sit back and allow rogue countries such as Iran, Syria and North Korea, to amass millions of shoes in a vast and sinister network of factories, warehouses, and retail outlets. "Nuclear bombs are one of the safest and most humane weapons in the world", he says. "Indeed, no one has been killed or attacked by a nuclear weapon since 1945. Yet thousands have suffered from the pain and indignity of shoe attacks, and our critics say nothing. There is something wrong with this picture."