Row as Iraq minister's son 'forces' flight turnaround

Middle East Airlines passenger planes at Beirut airport (file) Middle East Airlines acting Chairman Marwan Salha said the incident was "very disturbing"

A passenger plane from Lebanon to Iraq was forced to turn around in mid-flight because the Iraqi transport minister's son was angry about missing it, Middle East Airlines (MEA) has said.

The airline says the minister's son telephoned Baghdad to stop the aircraft from landing.

It had to turn around 21 minutes into the flight, according to MEA.

The transport ministry confirmed the incident but said it was due to airport cleaning.

A spokesman told Reuters news agency the minister's son had not been a passenger on it.

"There were cleaning operations in the airport and specific measures were taken," transport ministry media adviser Kareem al-Nuri said.

"We asked all flights not to land in Baghdad airport after 09:00 [06:0 GMT] but this flight arrived after this time, so we asked it to turn back.

"This information [about the minister's son] is not true and the minister is not accepting such behaviour. The minister's son was not scheduled to take that flight at all."

Flight cancelled

But MEA acting Chairman Marwan Salha told Reuters the incident was "very disturbing" and smacked of "pure nepotism".

Baghdadis walk through the book market on Muntanabi Street (March 2013) Many Iraqis believe that relatives of elected officials and leaders of political parties act as if they are above the law

Mr Salha said that the flight had been scheduled to leave at 12:40 (10:40 GMT) on Thursday, but was delayed for six minutes while airline staff searched for Mahdi al-Amiri, son of Hadi al-Amiri, and his friend in the business lounge.

"We made the necessary announcements and the last calls," he told Reuters. "The plane took off but one of the passengers turned out to be the son of the minister of Iraq."

He said that when Mr Amiri eventually arrived at the departure gate he was angry to discover that he had missed the flight, warning staff: "I will not allow the plane to land in Baghdad."

The flight was cancelled after it returned to Beirut, officials say, which meant that its 71 passengers had to search for new means of transport.

Contacts are going on between the Lebanese and the Iraqi authorities to resolve the matter.

Hadi al-Amiri is head of the Badr Organisation, previously an armed Shia militia. He is now a political ally of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Many Iraqis believe that relatives of elected officials and leaders of political parties act as if they are above the law.

An anonymous official at Baghdad airport told Reuters that air traffic on Thursday was normal, with 30 flights landing. The only one that turned around was the one from Beirut, he said.

Since news of the incident emerged, Mr Amiri and his son have been mocked on social media.

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