Nineveh police launched an investigation into a reported robbery on Tuesday in the northern Iraqi town of Bartella that ended with the severe beating of two elderly Christian women and robbery of a mother and daughter (AINA 2019-05-14).
"Nineveh Police Staff Commander Hamad Namis directed the formation of an investigative committee comprised of a number of specialized officers to investigate the incident of two criminals carrying out an armed robbery on the house of a Christian family in the Bartella district of Nineveh province," said Saad Maan, the spokesperson for the Iraqi interior ministry, in a statement on Tuesday.
The two [elderly] women, a daughter and a mother, were beaten and had their belongings stolen, according to the statement. "Quick measures have been taken," Maan added.
Two suspects with "criminal records" living near the burglarized house have been arrested, the statement detailed. Three Kalashnikov rifles, four hand grenades and seven military-grade knives were found in their houses "in addition to finding traces of blood in the house of the two suspects."
They are waiting for the results of the forensic evidence to prove the identity of the "real culprits."
A page called Ainkawa for All on Facebook posted pictures of the two supposed victims, but no names were provided. Rudaw was unable to independently verify the identities of those depicted.
Ainkawa is a predominately Christian neighborhood in the Kurdistan Region capital of Erbil. It effectively serves as the capital for Christian advocates in the country -- home to activists, non-governmental organizations, and media.
"An armed group breaks into the house of two ladies of our nation in Bartella and practices the worst type of torture against them. They are now in the hospital," read the caption.
While the daughter appeared to be awake, the mother seems to be unconscious in the graphic photos.
Muna Yaku, a professor of law in Erbil's Salahaddin University and an activist for Assyrian rights who has served on Kurdistan's Constitution Committee, decried the attack and considered it a systematic effort to drive the Christian population out of their homeland.
"It is true that crimes could be committed anytime and anywhere, but some of them can't be just fleeting. Rather, they are part of a well thought plan to strike fear into the people of Nineveh plains and induce them to immigrate," Yaku said in a Facebook post on Monday.
She claimed that the gold jewelry of the two women had been stolen.
"What do we run from? Demographic change, a lack of services, crumbling infrastructure, the withering away of work opportunities, ethnic and religious discrimination, or lack of security," Yaku said.
The plains of Nineveh province -- located in northern Iraq -- are one of the most diverse areas in the Middle East. It's inhabited by Arabs, Christians, Kurds, Shabaks, Yezidis, and other ethno-religious groups. The fertile lands contain disputed or Kurdistani territories which are claimed by both Erbil and Baghdad.
Many of the minority groups in the area were forced to flee when the Islamic State (ISIS) took control of the provincial capital of Mosul in 2014 and threatened to overrun the entire country. Christian-inhabited towns and villages hearing of the atrocities committed against the Yezidis to the west along the Iraq-Syria border fled in some cases just hours before the jihadists came.
However, many of their buildings and homes were destroyed in the conflict between ISIS and alliance of the Iraqi Security Forces and Kurdistan Region's Peshmerga -- backed by the US-led international coalition.
Less than a third of the 3,800 Christian families have returned to the historically Christian town of Bartella. Iraq's Christian population was estimated at 1 million before 2003. It has declined dramatically due to discrimination, conflict, attacks by al-Qaeda and ISIS. In addition to emigration fanned by war, many areas of eastern Nineveh are claimed by the predominately-Shiite Shabaks and Christians -- with the former garnering recent support from the Shiite-led Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitaries which have a growing influence in Iraq, as evidenced by last year's parliamentary election.
More than 1.66 million Iraqis remain displaced after 18 months after the formal declaration of the defeat of ISIS by the government, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Nearly 500,000 of the IDPs call Nineveh home.
President Barham Salih reaffirmed Iraq's commitment to protecting the Christian minority when he met with Pope Francis at the Vatican in November.
"During the meeting, the President emphasized that the crimes of genocide Christians, Yazidis, Muslims and other Iraqis have been subjected to, committed by the terrorist organization of ISIS, were not related to the tolerant teachings of the Islamic religion..." read a statement from Salih's office at the time.