When the first tanks crossed over the Kuwait border headed to Baghdad in March 2003, Marine platoon commander Timothy McLaughlin was among those leading the charge. His battalion thundered across the desert taking fire, and returned a lot more. Days later, they reached the Iraqi capital, and after bloody fighting found themselves surrounded by a small crowd of cheering Iraqis in Firdos Square. There, in a moment watched on television by hundreds of millions of people around the world, his battalion toppled the towering statue of Saddam Hussein. In fact, it was McLaughlin's own American flag that was draped over the statue's face before it fell -- an iconic image of victory that belied the long war to come.
Throughout his deployment, McLaughlin kept a personal diary of his experiences, sometimes recounting battles blow-by-blow and, in quieter moments, composing poetry or songs. There's a kill list of enemies felled; a catalog of the "people I saw," like the "white haired gentleman at the Palestine Hotel who said ‘thank you for all of Iraq’"; a letter to a Victoria's Secret model written in Kuwait as he awaited the start of the war; and a minute-by-minute account of his experience at the Pentagon on the morning of 9/11, as he raced toward the burning building.
When McLaughlin left the Marine Corps, he packed away his diary and that iconic flag. He moved on, struggled with PTSD, went to law school. The journal sat in a chest, unread, until the journalist Peter Maass, who had followed McLaughlin's battalion into Baghdad, visited him in 2010 while reporting an article for the New Yorker. Maass knew immediately what a remarkable document he had found. With the help of award-winning photographer Gary Knight, who also followed McLaughlin’s battalion during the invasion of Baghdad, they have created a vivid account of the early days of the Iraq War -- a unique and personal history of a defining chapter in America’s fraught adventure in the Middle East.
Ten years after American troops went into battle, Foreign Policy is pleased to present The Iraq War Diaries: a multimedia microsite featuring McLaughlin's gripping journal pages and combat snapshots -- accompanied by Knight’s powerful photographs, Maass’s seminal articles about the invasion, and videos of McLaughlin reading aloud his personal account of war.
How one Marine's diary helps us understand the Iraq war.By Peter Maass
An eyewitness to history, from the 9/11 attacks to the toppling of Saddam.By Tim McLaughlin
Readying for battle in Kuwait.
From the taking of the Diyala Bridge to the toppling in Firdos Square.
Living with PTSD
McLaughlin discusses the war's personal toll, 10 years later.