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AP looks ahead at new generation’s hopes 20 years after U.S. invasion of Iraq, not just behind at destruction

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We have an amazing team that covers Iraq day in and day out. But we also have a hidden resource: people who were there when history happened and are with us today. When we see the opportunity, we can offer our readers and customers that context. That was the case with Jerome Delay and John Daniszewski, both of whom were there in 2003 at the beginning of it all. They went back to offer some context about what has changed.     

Delay and Daniszewski were both among the few international journalists in Baghdad when the U.S. launched its “shock and awe” campaign. They joined with video journalist Lujain Jo, a native Iraqi, and video journalist Jerry Harmer, who was embedded with Marines who invaded by land 20 years ago, to deliver an authoritative and nuanced portrait of a country that’s been out of the spotlight since the defeat of the Islamic State group five years ago.  

Instead of distilling the country merely into the well-worn, war-torn image that many Iraqis say is outdated, the AP team’s package also focused on what’s ahead for Iraq.   

They conducted dozens of interviews with Iraqi youth, getting a deeper and sometimes counterintuitive look at a generation interrupted by war and terrorism, whose voices are rarely heard outside their home country. Half of Iraq’s population of 40 million is too young to remember Saddam Hussein. And they are taking advantage of a period of peace and increased freedoms to pursue a better future, from education and political activism to lighter pursuits such as road biking and dancing along the Tigris River to rap music. 

The team found this new generation among glitzy new buildings, bookstore cafes and bustling shopping centers that could as easily be found in Dubai or New York. They have replaced blast walls and barbed wire in Baghdad and Fallujah.   

AP gave voice to young Iraqis eager to rebuild their country without the sectarian divisions of the past. They’re aware of obstacles — corruption, occasional clashes with remnants of the Islamic State and a government beholden to pro-Iran parties and militias. But many see those as problems the new generation can fix, through activism and education.  

The AP’s package featured exclusive interviews with the Iraqi president and prime minister and interviews for text, video, and audio with Iraqis of all ages and socio-economic backgrounds. It featured stunning slices of everyday life in photos by Delay and a deep and human-centered story by Daniszewski. Daniszewski also wrote a timeline of Iraq since 2003 that showcased iconic AP photographs of the last 20 years, curated by Alyssa Goodman. Leslie Mazoch created a digital presentation that expertly combined photos, text, videos and the timeline. Abby Sewell and Qassim Abdul-Zahra contributed to reporting. 

Harmer created a unique video in which he read from his diary of the experience and overlaid his footage from 20 years ago. Jo created a compelling video centered on the voices of older Iraqis whose lives were forever altered by the U.S.-led invasion and occupation.  

Their work appeared on numerous U.S. and international news sites. The package was cited in both the Washington Post’s world view column and a New York Times’ opinion column, and it was promoted on-air on national NPR programs.  

For their sensitive and forward-looking view of an invasion that hit Iraq 20 years in the past, bolstered by their own experiences of it, Delay, Daniszewski, Jo and Harmer are this week’s Best of the Week — First Winner.  

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