Iraqi Airways maiden flight to London turns into nightmare
The first commercial flight between Baghdad and London in 20 years has turned into a nightmare for Iraq after its national airline boss had his passport seized and a chartered plane was impounded.
The transport ministry in Baghdad on Thursday confirmed that Iraqi Airways chief Kifah Hassan's travel document was taken after papers were served by lawyers acting for Kuwait Airways, which says it is owed 1.2 billion dollars.
The dispute dates back to now executed dictator Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, when, according to the oil-rich emirate, 10 of its planes were plundered after its airport had been seized.
"When the airplane arrived at Gatwick (airport) in London, the lawyer for the Kuwaiti authority tried to seize it, but he failed, because the airplane belongs to a Swedish company," said transport ministry spokesman Akil Kawthar.
"But they did not stop, and presented a lawsuit on the British company that contracts with Iraqi Airways, then got a decision from the British authorities to prevent the director general of Iraqi Airways from leaving London.
"They took his passport and all other documents that he has," said Kawthar.
The plane was subsequently impounded.
Transport Minister Amer Abduljabbar Ismail was also on Sunday's commercial flight, the airline's first since UN sanctions came into effect after Saddam's invasion of Kuwait.
Kawthar hit out at Kuwait's actions which he said had damaged Iraqi efforts to "reduce the suffering of its people by providing them with the best possible (air) services," that would save them time and money.
"The ministry is surprised by this escalating and provocative behaviour by Kuwait," he said.
"We demand all our Arab brothers and friends put pressure on Kuwait to stop actions that do not serve our two peoples, and help them to forget the past and open a new page in bilateral relations," he added.
No one from Kuwait Airways was immediately available for comment.
However, a statement published in The Times of London, quoting lawyers acting for Kuwait, was adamant that its actions were merited under a court order granted in 2004.
"It was unrealistic of Iraqi Airways to think that it could start flights to a jurisdiction where it owes 1.2 billion dollars without consequences," said Chris Gooding of law firm Fasken Martineau.
"Refusing to accept the freezing order is indicative of the ostrich-like attitude of Iraqi Airways to the debts it owes."
Iraq has previously said four of the plundered Kuwaiti aircraft were destroyed in the northern city of Mosul in an allied air strike in January or February 1991, during the Gulf War over Kuwait.
The other six aircraft were sent to neighbouring Iran who returned the planes directly to Kuwait in summer 1992, according to the Baghdad government.
© 2010 AFP