Elizabeth Tsurkov travelled to Iraq as a Princeton University PhD student and entered the country on her Russian passport. A holder of dual Israeli-Russian nationality, she was kidnapped by the pro-Iran Iraqi Shiite Kataib Hezbollah five months ago, apparently on orders from Tehran. The 36-year-old researcher had paid several visits to Iraq in the past two years. According to the American university, her research centers on the radical Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada a-Sadr and his militia.
On Friday, July 7, after her abduction won wide publicity in Israel and world media, Iraq’s government spokesman announced an investigation had been launched into her case. He spoke in answer to a question in an Iraqi TV interview. Owing to the high profile and complicated nature of the case, he said, nothing official would be released until the Baghdad government had finished its probe and reached conclusions. Only then would there be a formal statement for the media.
It appears that this is not the first time that Elizabeth Tsurkov has been involved in the Iraqi scene. In past instances, former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and the incumbent Mohammed Shia al Sudani both used back channels to warn Moscow and Washington that Tsurkov was in danger and had better leave Iraq. However, aside from minimal cautionary measures, the researcher took no notice of the warnings and stayed. Since it is rare to find a Western woman working on her own in the Shiite regions of Baghdad and southern Iraq, no one was surprised when she went missing.
Kataib Hezbollah (Brigades of the Party of God) is a powerful Iraqi Shia militia that gets financial and military support from Iran. The US has designated the group as a terrorist organization since 2009.
On Friday, July 7, the Israeli ambassador to Moscow, Alexander Ben Zvi called on high officials at the Russian foreign ministry. The topic of their conversation was not released but is presumed to have been a discussion on how the two governments can work together to obtain Tsurkov’s release.
Israel has only said the matter was being handled by “relevant parties… out of concern” for Ms Tsurkov’s “security and well-being.” It is not seen in Jerusalem as Israel’s business. She entered Iraq on a Russian passport, using her American and Russian connections. Israeli intelligence officials strongly deny that she worked for them and has few connections in this country. Her articles are vehemently critical of Israel.
Nevertheless, an effort is being to obtain her release. The US, Russia and Israeli governments persistently deny that a US-Iran prisoner exchange deal may be evolving around this effort. The impression is that something of the kind may afoot around the Tsurkov case.