Iraq has one of the world’s youngest populations, and most of them grew up knowing nothing but war and chaos.
The three-year-long campaign to defeat the Islamic State is only the latest chapter in a cycle of violence that began with the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. After 15 years, the conflicts have left virtually every aspect of the country crippled.
Iraq used to have one of the best education systems in the Arab world, and now over a third of the kids in the country are out of school and not receiving any education at all.
When the Islamic State group swept through Iraq in 2014, ultimately claiming control of a third of the country, its ranks were filled with young, disenfranchised Sunnis who were driven more by grievances with the Iraqi government than by any kind of devotion to Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate.
For the young Iraqis on the other side of the conflict, whether Sunni or Shia, it is not so different. With few opportunities in education or employment, many young men—and as we found out, many children—see enlisting with sectarian militias as the best course of action, even if it means death.
While ISIS’ days in Iraq may be over, the conditions that gave rise to the terrorist group haven’t changed.
VICE’s Isobel Yeung travels to Iraq to see how its young people view their future.
Cover image: A student inside of the few remaining schools in Fallujah, Iraq. (Andrew Cagle/VICE News)