BAGHDAD (Reuters) -Iran refused to allow a plane carrying Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on a trip to Asia to cross its air space overnight, a senior adviser to the Iraqi leader said on Sunday.
Sadiq al-Rikabi, who is accompanying Maliki on the trip to Japan and South Korea, said the prime minister’s plane entered Iranian air space at about 8:30 p.m. on Saturday.
“Suddenly the Iranian aviation authorities ordered the pilot to go back,” Rikabi said.
“We were obliged to fly to Dubai where we stayed for more than three hours to file a new (flight) plan,” he said by telephone from Bangkok, where the plane was just about to depart for Tokyo.
Rikabi said it was unclear why Iran had barred Maliki’s plane from crossing its territory.
Asked about the reports, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini implied Maliki’s plane may have faced an issue over permission to fly across Iran but said it was not an unusual problem.
“Permission for Maliki’s flight is a normal issue. All flights need permission,” he told a weekly news conference in Tehran, without giving further details.
Iraq’s U.S.-backed government has often had to tread a delicate path in trying to maintain good relations with both Iran, its neighbor to the east, and the United States.
Maliki, a Shi’ite, visited Tehran last September to urge Iran not to interfere in Iraq. President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, made an official trip to Tehran in November.
Washington accuses Shi’ite Iran of stoking violence in Iraq and in January detained five men it says were linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and backing militants. Iran insists they are diplomats, wants them freed and has requested access.
Iraq’s foreign minister said last week the Iraqi government was trying to secure the release of the five Iranians, who were detained by U.S. forces during a raid on an Iranian government office in the northern Iraqi city of Arbil on January 11.
An Iranian diplomat freed two months after being kidnapped in Baghdad by gunmen wearing Iraqi army uniforms has said he was tortured by U.S. forces while in captivity, Iran’s Fars News Agency reported on Saturday.
Iran has previously blamed the U.S. military for his abduction but U.S. officials had denied any role. On Saturday the U.S. military again denied playing any part in kidnapping the diplomat, or in his alleged torture. Iraq has said it did not know who had snatched the diplomat.
Maliki is seeking support for rebuilding his war-devastated country on the trip to Japan and South Korea.