Elizabeth Tsurkov is still alive in Iraq: family seeks negotiations

Elizabeth Tsurkov is still alive in Iraq: family seeks negotiations
Iraq is facing US pressures over the fate of Israeli-Russian academic Elizabeth Tsurkov, who was reportedly abducted by a Shia militia last year.
5 min read
06 March, 2024
Tsurkov was abducted as she was leaving a cafe in the Iraqi capital's Karrada neighbourhood, the Iraqi intelligence source said. [Facebook]

Iran-backed Shia militias in Iraq have allegedly relocated Israeli-Russian academic Elizabeth Tsurkov from Baghdad. With her whereabouts now outside the capital, her family's plea, amplified through sponsored Facebook ads, urged the captors to open communication channels to discern their demands.

Tsurkov, a doctoral student in the Department of Political Science at Princeton University and a researcher at the Forum for Regional Thinking in Israel and the Newlines Institute in Washington, is believed to have been abducted in Baghdad by Kataeb Hezbollah last March.

The Iraqi authorities officially announced on 7 July last year that they had opened an investigation into the abduction of Tsurkov, with a spokesperson for the Iraqi government asserting that the government is awaiting the results of the investigation, with no further comment.

Live Story

"The investigations into the fate of the Israeli abductee, Elizabeth Tsurkov, have recently concluded that she has been transferred outside Baghdad to an area controlled by influential armed factions, indicating that she is alive and in the custody of a known Iraqi faction," an official from the Iraqi Interior Ministry told Al-Arabi Al-Jadeed, The New Arab's Arabic language sister publication.

The official, who spoke anonymously, added, "Despite the difficulty of the investigations, the committee has concluded that she was recently moved outside Baghdad towards Babylon Province, and she is alive".  

The source also noted that Iraq faces US pressures regarding the researcher's fate.

In Baghdad, she had focused on pro-Iran factions and the movement of Iraqi Shia leader Muqtada Sadr as part of her research on the region, according to several journalists who had met her.

Tsurkov was abducted after leaving a cafe in the Iraqi capital's Karrada neighbourhood, the Iraqi intelligence source said.

The Israeli prime minister's office in July stated that Tsurkov has been missing in Iraq for several months and is being allegedly held by Kataeb Hezbollah, a paramilitary group with close ties to Iran.

Tsurkov had visited Iraq "on her Russian passport at her own initiative according to work on her doctorate and academic research on behalf of Princeton University in the US", the statement said. "Elizabeth Tsurkov is still alive, and we hold Iraq responsible for her safety and well-being".

An Iran-backed Shia militia in Iraq allegedly kidnapped Tsurkov to pressure Israel to make a deal with Iran in which she would be released in exchange for several Iranian operatives held by Israel, an Iraqi source close to the ruling elites in both Iraq and Iran last year told  The New Arab on condition of secrecy.

Live Story

Previous tweets by Tsurkov in which she had noted her background working in Israel's intelligence departments served as proof by supporters of the militia that "she is an active member in Mossad." 

Al Rabiaa TV, an Iraqi television close to one of the Iraqi militias, in November, broadcasted a video in which Tsurkov 'confessed' to working for Israel's spy agency Mossad and the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). She also asked her family to try to free her.

She also spoke about Israel's war on Gaza, describing it as a "folly" by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and that Israel is targeting women and children in Gaza. She also asked the families of Israeli captives held by Hamas to protest against Netanyahu and stop the war on besieged Gaza.

The video was the first evidence of Tsurkov's proof of life after her abduction in Baghdad, with most Iraqis arguing that she was likely confessed under pressure by Iraqi militias holding her captive. Kataeb Hezbollah has denied its involvement in her abduction.

In recent days, several accounts have appeared on the Facebook social media platform for the sister of the abducted Tsurkov, calling through sponsored ads on the abducting party to communicate with her to know what the abducting party wants.

In one of the ads, Ema Tsurkov, sister of Elizabeth Tsurkov, thanked Ahmad al-Hamidawi, the secretary-general of Iran-backed Iraqi militia Kata'ib Hezbollah, for publishing the video and asked him to directly call her to know what are his demands so that she could safely rejoin her family. Ema said her sister would tell the captives how they could contact her.  

Iraqi politician residing in Washington, Nizar Haider, ruled out in a conversation with Al-Arabi Al-Jadeed the ability of the government and security agencies to resolve Tsurkov's dossier.

"The kidnapping of Elizabeth Tsurkov is a type of crime that the state is incapable of dealing with, as it is associated with well-known and influential armed factions on the ground," Haider said.

He also indicated that despite 13 months passing since the kidnapping operation, four months since the kidnappers aired a videotape of her claiming that they were confessions made by Tsurkov, and eight months since the government announced the formation of a committee to track the kidnappers and determine the location of the abductee, "the Iraqi state has done nothing about this file."

"Investigating the case of the abducted Tsurkov is one of the complex issues, especially in Iraq when targeting is politically motivated, the case's documents and threads are missing, so those who carry out this work have the cover that facilitates their movement and execution of what they want," Iraqi security expert Mukhled Hazem said. "So, the threads of the crime are missing, and even if the security apparatus reaches some threads, there will be obstacles and hindrances preventing the completion of the investigation and the disclosure of the perpetrators and the case in full."