WARDAK, IRAQ —
Renas Rasheed rolled off the thin mattress he had been sleeping on, on the cement roof of a house that two weeks ago he had fought to retake from Islamic State militants living there.
Two years ago, Rasheed had been training to be a world-class bodybuilder and trainer. But when the fight began against Islamic State extremists two years ago, Iraqi Kurds from all walks of life left their families and joined the fighters known as Peshmerga.
Rasheed was one of them.
"I felt it was my national duty to join the Peshmerga, and I am happy to be with them. We are like brothers. I felt bad sitting at home while my Peshmerga brothers were here on the front line," Rasheed explained.
Rasheed is now a gunner, and fought in the offensive that recently pushed IS militants back more than 20 kilometers.
His day is spent with a team of Peshmerga defending and consolidating the new front line, just 20 kilometers east of the IS stronghold of Mosul.
He comes from a modest family, he says, has six brothers and three sisters, and lives with his parents.
"Just like other Peshmerga, my family, my sisters, my brothers are worried about me. We keep in touch by phone," Rasheed says.
He also calls his girlfriend, whose name is tattooed on his chest. He sends her photos of her initials spelled out with spent bullet casings.
On his phone, he has pictures of his days as a prize-winning bodybuilder.
"It was my childhood dream. I reached some of my goals. But when the war started, I joined the Peshmerga and left that dream behind," he said
But once the fight against Islamic State is over, he says, he will pick up where he left off. And maybe even get married.