20 years on: The Iraqis born the year the war began | The Iraq War: 20 years on

Twenty years ago this month, the US and several allies invaded Iraq, pledging to rid the country of its purported weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and topple the Saddam Hussein regime.

The US-led invasion plunged the country into war and sectarian violence. And the claims that Iraq harboured WMDs were found to be false. When coalition forces withdrew in 2011, they left behind a country scarred by conflict and political instability – one that would continue to face challenges, including from the armed group ISIL (ISIS). According to the Iraq Body Count Project, more than 200,000 civilians have been killed in war-related violence since 2003.

Although reliable data is hard to come by, roughly half of Iraq’s population of 42 million is estimated to have been born after 2003. About 60 percent of Iraqis are under the age of 25, and the most recent Iraq Labour Force Survey found that 36 percent of the country’s 15 to 24-year-olds – many of whom took their first steps during the US occupation – are not in education, employment, or training.

While their recollections of the early period of the invasion are limited, the first memories of many young Iraqis include new homes, missing relatives, car bombs, confusion, and fear. Formative years were spent indoors, obeying curfews.

Today, political violence, unemployment, the climate crisis, increasing living costs – with nearly one-third of the country living in poverty – and dysfunctional public services are some of the challenges confronting young people in Iraq.

As a generation comes of age, Al Jazeera spoke to six Iraqis born in 2003 about how the invasion shaped their lives and their thoughts and hopes for the future. Some are determined to contribute to a better Iraq, some want to leave, and others just want peace.

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