Middle east

Militias release recording of Israeli-Russian researcher abducted in Iraq

The recording cannot be separated from the ongoing conflict between Hamas and the Israeli army in the Gaza Strip and its regional implications

An Iraqi television channel and social media accounts close to Iraqi factions released a video clip said to feature the Israeli-Russian academic Elizabeth Tsurkov, who was kidnapped in Iraq in March. It is believed that the recording is linked to the war in Gaza and its regional repercussions. The clip would be the first images of Tsurkov published since her abduction over seven months ago, if the recording is confirmed.

The detained researcher appeared in the video sitting in a room, speaking in Hebrew to the camera. Her comments referred to the war between Israel and Palestinians that erupted last month. She claimed to be following Mossad and the CIA, stating that she worked to establish relationships between Israel and the Syrian Democratic Forces. She also mentioned organizing protests and attempting to create a Shia-Shia conflict.

It is believed that Tsurkov is under pressure to provide this information, while her captors seek to accuse protesters demanding freedom and rejecting corruption in Iraq as victims of intelligence conspiracies—a narrative frequently echoed by Iran and its allies. In July, the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that the captive was held by the Iraqi Shia Hezbollah Brigades, backed by Iran, and that Iraq was responsible for her safety.

Princeton University stated that the captive was enrolled at the university at the time of her abduction and had gone to Iraq “to conduct research related to her doctoral dissertation.” In July, Iraq announced that it had opened an investigation into her abduction. In September, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi told The New York Times in an interview that the government had not identified the party responsible for her kidnapping, adding, “The incident damages the reputation of Iraq’s stability and the capability of our security apparatus.”

The abduction cannot be separated from developments in the Gaza Strip and the subsequent escalation of armed groups linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard attacking U.S. bases in Syria and Iraq. This was met with a strong response from the U.S. Air Force, which carried out airstrikes on Iranian sites near the Iraqi border.

Hamas is currently holding about 240 Israelis, including civilians and soldiers, in the Gaza Strip, while Israel insists that they are hostages awaiting release. U.S. President Joe Biden, along with the Department of Defense, has vowed a strong response to the shelling operations conducted by the militias, with warnings directed at Iran about the danger of expanding the conflict in the Middle East.

Given the rapidly evolving field developments in Iraq, Al-Sudani confirmed on Monday that Iraq is making significant efforts to prevent the conflict in Gaza from widening. Additionally, Iraq is committed to protecting diplomatic missions and advisers in Iraqi bases.

During a phone call with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte to discuss the developments on Sunday, Al-Sudani stated, “What is happening in Gaza is crimes against humanity, genocide, and a clear violation of all agreements and laws that have lost their value in the face of the tragic numbers of victims, mostly innocent civilians and half of them children. This is in addition to the forced displacement operations carried out by the Zionist occupation authorities,” according to a statement by the Iraqi government.

He added, “The international community and major powers today bear an ethical and legal responsibility to stop the war and open humanitarian corridors to deliver water, food, and medicine to the besieged civilians.”

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