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Arrested and detained early in the Iraq War, first at Abu Ghraib and then at Camp Bucca, al-Baghdadi’s radicalism is honed in the American prison camps. Now, as leader of ISIS, he is one of the most wanted terrorists in the world.
Injured fighting against American forces in Afghanistan in late 2001, Zarqawi moves to Iraq and leads al-Qaeda in Iraq, the terrorist organization that eventually morphs into ISIS.
A young Shiite cleric, al-Sadr builds an insurgent movement of Shiites who oppose American occupation and support a new Islamic government for Iraq. His Mahdi Army sparks a nationwide uprising in early 2004, and clashes violently with US forces in the holy city of Najaf in August 2004.
In 2005, Sgt. Hester and Sgt. Timothy Nein of the 617th Military Police Company fights off an insurgent ambush of an army supply convoy in Iraq. Hester becomes the first female soldier since World War II to the Silver Star for valor in combat.
One of the most successful anti-insurgency commanders in Iraq in 2006-2007, MacFarland will go on to lead operations against ISIS in 2015.
Fights in the 1991 Gulf War, the war in Afghanistan, and the Iraq War, commanding a Marine division in the 2004 assault on Fallujah. Oversees the end of the Iraq War as commander of US Central Command, and currently serves as the Secretary of Defense.
Commander of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, and one of the first military leaders to recognize the insurgency and have success fighting it. Serves as President Trump’s National Security Advisor from 2017 to 2018.
As commander of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), McChrystal spearheads the shadow war in Iraq and Afghanistan, capturing and killing high-value targets like Saddam Hussein and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. He takes on a more high-profile role as the commander of international forces in Afghanistan, but has trouble playing nice with political leaders.
Commander of the Army’s legendary 101st Airborne Division in the first year of the Iraq War, the fiercely competitive General Petraeus plays a key role in the initial drive to Baghdad and the first attempts to quell the insurgency. Taking command of the Multi-National Force in Iraq in 2007, he spearheads the “surge,” and becomes Director of CIA in 2011.
A CIA analyst for decades, Morell serves as George W. Bush’s daily intelligence briefer from 2001-2002 and has a first-hand look at the President’s response to 9/11. Morell is intimately involved with the fight against al-Qaeda, intelligence gathering on Iraq prior to the war. As Deputy Director of the CIA from 2009-2013, Morell is a key player in the mission to kill Osama bin Laden, and the fallout from the Benghazi attacks.
Director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center from 1999-2002, Black is instrumental in the drive to invade Afghanistan, dismantle al-Qaeda and kill Osama bin Laden. After being pushed out of the CIA, Black finds a new role as vice chairman of Blackwater USA during the private military contractor’s most controversial years in Iraq.
An Iraqi exile who left his home country as a teenager, Chalabi is a close ally of Wolfowitz and other forces in the government pushing for an invasion of Iraq. Chalabi provides intel to the US government that helps justify the war – most of which turns out to be false – but he does briefly realize his dream of holding political power in Iraq.
A State Department staffer who works for the Coalition Provisional Authority, the American agency that runs Iraq from 2003-2004. She later returns to Washington as a Deputy National Security Adviser to President Bush, and works with Gen. Petraeus to develop the surge.
Known as the “architect of the Iraq War,” Deputy Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz has pushed for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein since the end of the Gulf War in 1991.
Photojournalist Marai covers his native Afghanistan for Agence France-Presse for over twenty years, from the rule of the Taliban in the late 90s, through the American invasion in 2001, through the resurgence of the Taliban and the rise of ISIS years later. He is killed by an ISIS suicide bomber in April 2018.
Carroll, a reporter for the Christian Science Monitor, is abducted by Sunni insurgents in January 2006 and held captive for two months.
A former Green Beret, freelance journalist Yon comes to Iraq in 2004, after a childhood friend is killed and hung from a bridge by insurgents in Fallujah. Embedded for longer than any other reporter in Iraq, Yon at one point even takes up a weapon himself.
As a reporter for the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times, Filkins is on the ground for both the invasion of Afghanistan and the first three years of the Iraq War.