Iraq airport official arrested over Lebanon flight row

The flight that left Beirut without the Iraqi transport minister’s son was ordered mid-flight to turn back

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The deputy head of Baghdad airport was arrested after a Lebanese airliner that left Beirut without the Iraqi transport minister’s son was ordered mid-flight to turn back, the premier’s spokesman said Friday.

Samer “Kubba was arrested... because his action was wrong and harmful to the prestige of the Iraqi state,” Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s spokesman Ali Mussawi told AFP.

It was unclear what role Kubba, who was arrested Thursday by troops reporting directly to Maliki, is thought to have played in the incident.

Lebanon’s Middle East Airlines said Thursday that Iraqi authorities forced its Baghdad-bound flight to turn around some 20 minutes out of Beirut because Transport Minister Hadi al-Ameri’s son, Mahdi, had missed the flight.

MEA said the flight had taken off after repeatedly paging two passengers, who failed to turn up.

“The passengers did not respond to the calls and the plane took off after being delayed by several minutes,” it said.

“About 20 minutes after take-off, Middle East Airlines was informed by its Baghdad office that the plane would be prevented from landing by local civil aviation officials if a passenger was not on board.”

The missing passenger was identified as Mahdi al-Ameri, and the plane turned back to Beirut.

Following the incident, Mussawi said Maliki ordered that “all those responsible for preventing the plane coming from Beirut from landing in Baghdad” be “dismissed and held responsible.”

But transport ministry spokesman Karim Nuri said it was “completely untrue” that the flight was turned back on behalf of Ameri’s son.

He insisted that MEA had been previously told that the plane would not be able to land due to runway maintenance at the Baghdad airport, which is why it was turned back.

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