Iraqi PM Sudani vows efforts to uncover fate of Israeli-Russian hostage Elizabeth Tsurkov

Iraqi PM Sudani vows efforts to uncover fate of Israeli-Russian hostage Elizabeth Tsurkov
Iraqi PM Sudani has faced criticism in the US for his inaction on Israeli-Russian hostage Tsurkov, who has been held for over a year by militias
3 min read
21 April, 2024
Elizabeth Tsurkov was abducted in Iraq in March 2023 [file photo]

During his inaugural visit to the United States, Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammad Shia al-Sudani encountered scrutiny and faced a sharp rebuke for his perceived “inaction” regarding the fate of Elizabeth Tsurkov, an Israeli-Russian researcher reportedly taken hostage by pro-Iran militias in Iraq.

Al-Sudani arrived in Washington on Saturday 14 April, and met with United States President Joe Biden and other senior US officials. 

Sudani assured CNN journalist Christiane Amanpour that his government was dedicated to revealing the fate of Tsurkov, a doctoral student at the Department of Political Science at Princeton University and a researcher at the Forum for Regional Thinking in Israel.

She is believed to have been abducted in March last year in Baghdad by Kataeb Hezbollah, a pro-Iran militia in Iraq. Kataeb Hezbollah has denied this however.

Sudani pledged to hold accountable those involved in such abductions.

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.

Emma Tsurkov, the sister of Elizabeth, confronted Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani at a Washington event, accusing him of inadequate efforts to secure her sister's release. She criticized al-Sudani for not taking action, claiming that individuals affiliated with the Iraqi government were involved.

Emma Tsurkov also condemned Sudani for "enabling terrorists” and expressed frustration over his lack of action despite having the power to help for over a year.

According to an official from the Iraqi Interior Ministry who spoke to The New Arab's sister site Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, Tsurkov has been moved from Baghdad to Babylon Province by Iran-backed Shia militias, with confirmation that she is still alive.

The source noted that Iraq faces US pressure 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.

Tsurkov had visited Iraq "on her Russian passport at her initiative according to work on her doctorate and academic research on behalf of Princeton University in the US", the Israeli prime minister's office said in a statement last July.

"Elizabeth Tsurkov is still alive, and we hold Iraq responsible for her safety and well-being," it added.

According to a source who spoke to TNA last year, a militia kidnapped her in order to pressure Israel to make a deal with Iran in which she would be released in exchange for several Iranian operatives held by Israel.

Previous tweets by Tsurkov in which she had noted her background working in Israel's intelligence departments were used by the militia to justify her detention and claim that "she is an active member in Mossad." 

Al Rabiaa TV, an Iraqi television station close to pro-Iran militias in November broadcast 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.

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She also spoke about Israel's war on Gaza, describing it as a "folly" by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and saying that Israel is targeting women and children there.

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 that Tsurkov was alive after her abduction in Baghdad.