Elizabeth Tsurkov: Iraqi Shia militia seizes Israeli-Russian researcher rising concerns for her safety

An Israeli-Russian academic, who disappeared in Iraq earlier this year, has reportedly been captured by an Iraqi Shia militia, announced Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office.

Elizabeth Tsurkov, a doctoral candidate at the distinguished Princeton University, USA, vanished during a research mission in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad. The Israeli authorities have indicated that Kataib Hezbollah, an influential Iraqi Shia militia with strong links to Iran, is behind her detainment. The militia’s stipulations for her release remain undisclosed.

Israel firmly places the onus of Ms Tsurkov’s welfare on Iraq, stating it to be accountable for her safety. “We hold Iraq responsible for her safety and well-being,” said a spokesperson for Mr Netanyahu’s office.

The Shia militia in question, Kataib Hezbollah, also known as Brigades of the Party of God, is bolstered by financial and military assistance from Iran. Since 2009, the United States has labelled the group as a terrorist organisation.

The Israeli government has refrained from divulging further details, leaving the matter to be dealt with by the “relevant parties”, citing concerns for Ms Tsurkov’s “security and well-being”.

Iraq and Israel share a turbulent history and lack formal diplomatic ties. Iraq’s parliament outlawed any attempts to normalise relations with Israel just last year, a country it has yet to officially acknowledge.

The Washington Post quoted a statement from Ms Tsurkov’s family, in which they too held “the Iraqi government as directly responsible for her safety”. The scholar entered Iraq on her Russian passport, as confirmed by Mr Netanyahu’s office.

According to the New Lines Institute for Strategy and Policy, a Washington-based think tank where Ms Tsurkov holds a fellowship, she last reached out to them in March. It was later that they discovered her abduction by a “pro-Iranian militia” from independent sources.

The Institute noted it resisted the urge to publicise her disappearance due to the family’s preferences and in the hopes of a prompt resolution.

Ms Tsurkov’s research primarily centres around the Levant, a geographical term encompassing present-day Israel, Syria, among other regions, and focuses on “the Syrian uprising and civil war”.

New Lines also highlighted that Ms Tsurkov’s outspoken criticism of Israel, Iran, and Russia – the trio likely to be instrumental in negotiating her release – further complicates the situation. The think tank stressed the need for the United States’ involvement, given Ms Tsurkov’s affiliation with New Lines and Princeton.

Princeton expressed grave concern via a statement posted on Twitter. The university declared, “We are deeply concerned for her safety and well-being, and we are eager for her to be able to rejoin her family and resume her studies.”

As of now, no official comments have been made by the United States, Russia, Iran, or Iraq.

Image Credit: Elizabeth Tsurkov / Twitter

Tags : Iraq