Baghdad: A government spokesman announced on Friday that Iraq has begun an investigation into the case of a dual Israeli-Russian academic who has been missing there since March.
Since the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated on Wednesday that Elizabeth Tsurkov is still alive "and we hold Iraq responsible for her safety and well-being," Bassem Al-Awadi's comments were the first official ones from Iraq.
Netanyahu claimed that the Hezbollah Brigades, a potent Iranian-backed Shiite organisation that the US government designated as a terrorist organisation in 2009, are holding Tsurkov hostage.
Tsurkov is an authority on regional affairs who focuses on the Middle East, particularly the conflict-torn country of Syria. Over the years, the international media has frequently cited him. Tsurkov last posted a tweet in March 21.
.Tsurkov is a fellow at the Washington-based think tank New Lines Institute and a doctoral candidate at Princeton University.
Al-Awadi texted, "There is no official statement yet due to the ongoing official investigations into the disappearance of a foreign journalist. "At this time, we are unable to provide specific details."
Tsurkov, a professor, visited Iraq on her Russian passport, according to Netanyahu, "at her own initiative pursuant to work on her doctorate and academic research on behalf of Princeton University."
Due to the lack of diplomatic ties between Israel and Iraq, Tsurkov was unable to enter the country using her Israeli passport. Senior Kataeb Hezbollah officials declined to comment on the situation.
Later, the group released a statement in which they neither confirmed nor denied their involvement in Tsurkov's disappearance but called for the identification and prosecution of Iraqis who helped Israeli citizens do their jobs in a nation that forbids interaction with Israel.
After the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, Iran became a significant player in the country's politics, providing support to Shiite militias and groups that have remained highly influential ever since.
A local website reported that Iraqi authorities had detained an Iranian national involved in her kidnapping days after she vanished.
It claimed that Tsurkov was abducted from the central Baghdad neighbourhood of Karradah and that the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad was attempting to have the man freed and sent back to Iran.
At the time, some Iraqi activists claimed an Iranian man was involved in the kidnapping after posting a copy of his passport online.
Because of Iran's hostile rhetoric, support for militant organisations like Lebanon's Hezbollah, and alleged nuclear programme, Israel views Iran as its greatest enemy.