"What is happening now in the Strait of Hormuz, if things spin out of control, not only will it be an issue between the United States and Iran, it would impact the entire region and, in particular, Iraq", Hennis-Plasschaert said when asked how the tensions between Iran and the United States could affect Iraq.
The matter requires a pragmatic and realistic approach since the impact from a possible escalation of US-Iran tensions may undermine the progress that Iraq has achieved in terms of post-war recovery over the recent years, according to the special representative.
As for Russia’s Security Concept for the Gulf area potentially being an option for stabilizing the situation, Hennis-Plasschaert said that "every call, from whomever, for regional stability and security is to be welcomed".
Last week, Russia unveiled to foreign diplomats in Moscow its new concept for security in the Persian Gulf in response to these rising tensions. The concept outlined a system of collaborative security measures through arms control, joint counterterrorism efforts and the removal of foreign military presence in the region as key conditions for stability.
The situation in the Persian Gulf has rapidly deteriorated following several incidents that have threatened global security. Most recently, Iranian forces seized UK-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic waterway that links the Gulf of Oman with the Persian Gulf. The incident has been condemned by a number of Western states.
UN Special Envoy, Russian Foreign Minister Discussed Return of Daesh Fighters From Syria to Iraq
The special representative of the UN secretary-general for Iraq also said that she had discussed with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov security risks as they relate to the return of terrorist fighters and their affiliates to Iraq from the al-Hawl refugee camp in Syria.
"We touched upon the matter of the return of ISIL[Daesh] fighters … that are being kept in the camp called al-Hawl in Syria. There are many people in there, around 70,000. I believe over 30,000 are Iraqis, many of them are little children. These people will come back to Iraq one day or later, because the situation in al-Hawl is not very good. So the question is: how is it going to be managed? And it’s important to have early clarity on issues such as hosting facilities, security and screening arrangements, otherwise, you create serious risks", Hennis-Plasschaert said, when asked what was on the agenda of her meeting with Lavrov.
The camp, located in northeastern Syria near the border with Iraq, houses at least 70,000 people who have fled battlefields in the region. Many of them are family members of killed militants from Daesh. A number of international organizations have raised concerns about the situation in the camp as it was initially designed to accommodate only 20,000 people.
One will also have to take care of children who have been in "very traumatic circumstances in a very vulnerable period of their lives" she added.
"Now, the [issue of] ISIL[Daesh] fighters and their family members refers not only to Iraqis, but also to the so-called foreign fighters. Many countries have a different opinion on what to do with them", Hennis-Plasschaert said.
The UN representative also noted that she and Lavrov covered the political situation in Iraq.
"We discussed the political situation in Iraq, how things are going now. I have informed Minister Lavrov, and he is well-informed that, if you look at Iraq now and compare the situation with that of one or two years ago, things are a lot better, but it is still very fragile", Hennis-Plasschaert said.
The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) is involved in humanitarian and stabilization efforts in the Middle Eastern country, according to the UN official, including through the 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan, which was launched in April together with the Iraqi government.
"The UN humanitarian and stabilization efforts are numerous. We are, for example, removing explosives in cities like Mosul and elsewhere, and reconstructing the homes of the people that had to flee ISIL [Daesh]", Hennis-Plasschaert pointed out.
UNAMI was established by a UN Security Council resolution in 2003 at the request of the Iraqi government. Hennis-Plasschaert assumed her responsibilities as the head of UNAMI and special representative for Iraq of the UN secretary-general in December 2018.
Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert also commended Russia's role in repatriating children of militants affiliated with the Daesh terrorist group from Iraq.
In 2017, Moscow embarked on a mission to return home the Russian children who were smuggled to Iraq and Syria by parents with links to terrorist groups. Presidential Commissioner for Children’s Rights Anna Kuznetsova, whose office is running the return efforts, said this mission will be completed in August.
"There are a number of countries that are not really willing or remain reluctant to take back their own nationals affiliated with ISIL. Russia sets an example as it is investing in repatriation of Russian children, so we touched upon that", Hennis-Plasschaert said commenting on the results of her meeting with Russian Foreign Minister in Moscow.
The UN representative noted that they also discussed how the returning Daesh fighters should be prosecuted, specifically whether they should be tried in their own countries, in Iraq or by an international tribunal. She pointed out that Lavrov said Russia "would not be in favor" of the latter option.
"Russia has shown itself as a very reliable partner to Iraq. For a long time, Russia has been keen on creating stability, or on contributing to stability in Iraq, which to me, in my current capacity, is of crucial importance", Hennis-Plasschaert said.
While in Moscow, Hennis-Plasschaert also met with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin. Talks with both Lavrov and Vershinin focused on issues pertaining to the progress achieved in Iraq, return of Daesh fighters and regional security, according to the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq.
The Russian foreign minister said earlier in the month that Moscow had managed to take back 90 Russian children from Iraq but that about 30 more remain in the Middle Eastern country.
Iraq, Kurds Willing to Move Forward in 'Right Direction'
Both Iraq and its autonomous region of Kurdistan are willing to resolve the dispute that arose in the wake of the latter's 2017 independence referendum, despite it being premature to state whether any progress has been achieved, according to the special representative of the UN secretary-general for Iraq.
"Clearly, for a long time, the relationship between Erbil and Baghdad was super sensitive, but I have to say, if I see what happened over the past months, I really feel that on both sides there is a sincere will to make things progress in the right direction. For now it might be a bit early to talk about progress being made, but things are moving", Hennis-Plasschaert said.
The UN representative stressed that if she had been asked about this matter seven months ago, she would have been "much more pessimistic".
Erbil and Baghdad are now in the process of negotiating the terms pertaining to Iraqi Kurdistan's participation in Iraq's new government. These developments come after their relations significantly deteriorated in 2017 after Iraqi Kurdistan held a referendum on seceding from Iraq. Baghdad declared the referendum illegitimate and launched a military operation in the region, notably capturing the capital of the oil-rich northern province of Kirkuk.
DNA Checks Underway in Regards to Missing Kuwaiti Nationals
DNA testing is currently being done in Kuwait in order to determine whether the remains recently found in a mass grave in Iraq belong to Kuwaitis who went missing during the 1990-1991 Gulf War, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert said.
A meeting of the Tripartite Committee, which includes Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United States, the United Kingdom, France and the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, will reportedly be held in Jordan on Wednesday. The participants are set to discuss matters pertaining to people who went missing in Iraq between 1990 and 1991.
"Iraq is a country that unfortunately, because of its violent past, has been filled with mass graves. It is truly painful. Whenever you discover one, you don't know what you will find further. And most recently a mass grave was discovered that very possibly contained the remains of Kuwaiti missing persons. DNA checks are still ongoing. I hope that we will be able to inform the families of the Kuwaiti missing persons on further details soon", Hennis-Plasschaert said.
Last week, Iraqi officials met with representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Baghdad to discuss the issue of missing people after the human remains were discovered in Muthanna Governorate in southern Iraq.
According to the Red Cross, genetic analyses are being conducted by the Medico-Legal Directorate in Baghdad.
*Daesh (ISIL, ISIS, IS, Islamic State) is a terrorist organization banned in Russia and many other countries.