Fighting has been heavy as the Iraqi military engages in Operation Conquest, an offensive to push the Islamic State group out of Mosul.
The operation began last week and is expected to take many months.
In an undisclosed location in northern Iraq, Kurdish security forces are holding a number of captured IS fighters. One young IS member, captured last winter, spoke with VOA, offering insights into the extremist group as well as describing who some of the young fighters are.
After months working for IS, Omar (not his real name) fled and gave himself up to Kurdish security forces in the city of Kirkuk.
When IS overran his village in 2014, Omar and his friends were forced to join the group. He said the militants took advantage of their illiteracy and indoctrinated the new recruits.
"They gave us religious training. If you’re illiterate they’ll teach you how to read and write. If you steal they’ll cut off your right hand. If a married man commits adultery we stone him to death. If he’s not married he gets 100 lashes," he said.
Job with IS
Omar’s job was to search for contraband at checkpoints. Inside IS-held territory, in the city of Hawija, he said he witnessed an array of horrors such as beheadings, amputations, and women being bought and sold as sex slaves.
"Because I’m a young guy, I didn’t get a wife. There is an office inside the city. Whether you’re a fighter or a civilian, you pay money, get a woman and go. They are the widows of IS fighters. If you’re single, you go pay your money and take a wife," he said.
After four months, Omar tried to leave, but it was very dangerous. Two men accused of smuggling people out of IS-controlled territory were publicly executed and left hanging in the central square in Hawija as a warning.
"After four months, I stopped working with IS. But they came to my house and threatened me and told me I had to return," he said. "If you stop working with IS, they will come to your house and give you two options: either you go back to work or we kill you."
With his father’s help, Omar managed to escape into Kurdish-controlled territory, where he was arrested by security forces.
Omar now awaits his trial date in Iraqi Kurdistan. He hopes that his captors show more mercy than the militants for whom he once worked.