Special Report

The Iraq War Diaries

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.

"Invasion: Diaries and Memories of War in Iraq" will be showing at the Bronx Documentary Center in New York from March 14 to April 19.

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The Inside Story of the Diary

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'His Horse Was Named Death'
The Iraq War Diaries of Tim McLaughlin.

His Horse Was Named Death

Inside the Pentagon on 9/11
McLaughlin's minute-by-minute account of the terrorist attack in Washington.

Inside the Pentagon on 9/11

Assault on Baghdad
'Completely destroy everything on the other side of the canal.'

Assault on Baghdad

Tearing Down Saddam
'This place is pandemonium.'

Tearing Down Saddam

Kill Lists and Victoria's Secret
A Marine's candid, and often funny, reflections on life during wartime.

Kill Lists and Victoria's Secret

The Invasion Timeline
The march from Kuwait to the heart of Baghdad.

The Invasion Timeline

Special Report

The War Issue

Imagine if, on Sept. 12, 2001, someone had told you that the United States would still be fighting in Afghanistan a dozen years later, with more than 65,000 troops on the ground, untold billions of dollars spent, and a raging political debate about whether to station U.S. troops there indefinitely to prevent the Taliban’s comeback to power. It sure wouldn’t have seemed like a victory. So how did this happen, and what can we learn from the mistakes and missed opportunities of this decade of conflict? What would the secret Pentagon Papers of this, America’s longest war, read like? With the conflict in Iraq over, the U.S. military headed for the exits in Afghanistan by 2014, and a full-throated argument already in Washington over the scope, scale, size—and budget—of the postwar Pentagon, now is the right time to raise questions about just how the United States managed to fight on—without winning—for such a long time. The result is this FP special report, drawing on the military’s own tradition of after-action reports to raise some hard truths.

The report features expert reflections on what went right and wrong in Afghanistan, an exclusive account from former Obama administration official Vali Nasr of the extreme dysfunction that plagued the president's "AfPak" strategy, and a roundtable led by FP's Tom Ricks on what the military missed in Afghanistan and Iraq. It also includes a glance into the future as our annual survey of experts weighs in on the most dangerous threats to the United States in the coming decades and noted strategist Thomas P.M. Barnett guides us through the budget battles with a Think Again on the Pentagon. We may still be wrangling over the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan, but America’s military leaders, as Barnett captures all too well, are suffering a perennially bad case of what former Defense Secretary Robert Gates called "next-war-itis."

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  • Exclusive: How Obama Let Diplomacy Fail in Afghanistan
    By Vali Nasr

  • Insiders Debate U.S. Misfires in Iraq and Afghanistan

  • What Went Wrong in Afghanistan?

  • What Went Right in Afghanistan?
    By Peter Bergen

  • Photos of an Afghanistan Changed for the Better
    By Elizabeth F. Ralph

  • How Obama Can Have His Way on National Security
    By Elliott Abrams

  • FP Survey: State of War

  • Think Again: The Pentagon
    By Thomas P.M. Barnett

  • Lessons Learned (and Not) from Iraq and Afghanistan
    By David Rothkopf

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