The spymaster of Baghdad A true story of bravery, family, and patriotism in the battle against ISIS

Margaret Coker

Book - 2021

"From the former New York Times bureau chief in Baghdad comes the gripping and heroic story of an elite, top-secret team of unlikely spies who triumphed over ISIS"--

Saved in:

2nd Floor Show me where

1 / 1 copies available
Location Call Number   Status
2nd Floor 956.70443/Coker Checked In
[New York, New York] : Dey St., an imprint of William Morrow [2021]
Main Author
Margaret Coker (author)
First edition
Physical Description
xv, 309 pages : color illustrations ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages [289]-296) and index.
  • Author's Note
  • Prologue
  • Chapter 1. Blessings of an Oldest Child
  • Chapter 2. A Chance for Freedom
  • Chapter 3. Breaking with the Past
  • Chapter 4. Return of the Exiles
  • Chapter 5. Ache for Paradise
  • Chapter 6. Murder Capital of the World
  • Chapter 7. Education of a Radical
  • Chapter 8. Building a Cover Story
  • Chapter 9. Learning from Misinformation
  • Chapter 10. Hunting for Prey
  • Chapter 11. Living Your Best Life
  • Chapter 12. Alone in the Wilderness
  • Chapter 13. Awakening the Beast
  • Chapter 14. War Hits Home
  • Chapter 15. Volunteering for Danger
  • Chapter 16. Launching the Mission
  • Chapter 17. Inside the Lion's Den
  • Chapter 18. Caught in a Trap
  • Chapter 19. Coming Home Again
  • Chapter 20. Racing Against Time
  • Chapter 21. Stretched to the Breaking Point
  • Chapter 11. Unraveling
  • Epilogue
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes on Interviews and Citations
  • Bibliography
  • Index
Review by Booklist Review

Building a top-notch intelligence service of capable, patriotic agents is a strong marker of statesmanship and sovereignty in a new nation, especially when the previous regime's spies and secret police were focused on protecting the ruling party over the good of the nation. The titular player, Abu Ali al-Basri, spent much of his life avoiding the latter, then, after Saddam Hussein's fall, realizing the former by establishing a government espionage unit called the Falcons. To confront Iraq's enemies, Abu Ali relied on traditional methods, using networks of spies and informants who could do the intricate and dangerous work that high-tech surveillance could not. Coker delves deeply into the spymaster's life, along with that of two of his heroic agents, brothers Harith and Munaf al-Sudani, and tracks their daring, secret fight against Al Qaeda and ISIS. She also paints a detailed picture of life in Iraq, from family traditions and culture to politics and intrigue, providing an informative and invaluable perspective for Western readers within an intensely suspenseful, superbly well-reported, and significant tale of brave and essential covert counterintelligence operations.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Journalist Coker debuts with a fascinating, character-driven chronicle of the battle against al-Qaeda and ISIS in Iraq. She centers her account on Abu Ali al-Basri, leader of an elite Iraqi intelligence unit known as "the Falcons," and two young men under his command. Framing the book with the joint Iraqi-American raid that resulted in the death of ISIS mastermind Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2019, Coker follows brothers Harith and Munaf al-Sudani as they endure family strife, the fall of Saddam Hussein, and the violence of the postinvasion insurgency before finally settling into vital roles on al-Basri's spy team. Coker juxtaposes their heroic journey with the descent of Abrar al-Kubaisi, a young Sunni woman whose despair over the American occupation of Iraq led to her radicalization by ISIS. Coker ties the threads of the narrative together in a gripping and well-crafted conclusion worthy of a spy novel. Though she paints a vivid and harrowing picture of the fallout from the Iraq War, it is Coker's focus on the resilience and bravery of Iraqis who are leading the fight to rebuild their country that lifts this book above other accounts of the war on terror. The result is a dramatic and edifying must-read for espionage fans and anyone interested in Middle Eastern affairs. (Feb.)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

The Iraq War is often told through the lenses of the U.S. military and media, which credited U.S. efforts with success in the confusing and sometimes aimless conflict. Coker, Baghdad Bureau Chief for the New York Times in 2017--2018, shows that an Iraqi security agency was also instrumental in foiling terrorist activities and capturing numerous al-Qaeda and ISIS operatives. Her book focuses on three Shiite Iraqis: Abu Ali al-Basri, head of an elite intelligence unit, as well as Harith and Munaf al-Sudani, who worked with al-Basri to infiltrate and inform on an ISIS cell. Coker's engaging writing provides enlightening descriptions of the complexity of Iraqi social and religious elements that affected the conflict. She shows that, without Iraqi security forces, dozens more terrorist attacks would have occurred and even more suicide bombers would have succeeded. Readers wishing to better understand the complexities of the Iraq War will appreciate her insight into Iraqi society. VERDICT Fans of spy stories will gravitate toward Coker's use of intrigue and suspense. Her book is an important addition to the history of the Iraq War, and shows how Iraqi security and intelligence agencies made significant contributions in restoring order during and especially since the end of the conflict.--Jill Ortner, SUNY Buffalo Libs.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

A history of the defeat of the Islamic State group in Iraq, featuring an unexpected cast of heroes. Many Americans believe that the invasion of Iraq was a multitrillion-dollar debacle that replaced a vicious dictator with a failed state. Having suppressed the insurgency and al-Qaida, the U.S. withdrew in 2011, whereupon al-Qaida's even more vicious successor, IS, came roaring back before American forces returned to lead the fight against it. Journalist Coker, former New York Times Baghdad bureau chief, begs to differ, if only regarding recent events in which Iraqis played a central role. A leading figure is Abu Ali al-Basri, a dissident who returned in 2003 after nearly 20 years in exile. However, because he didn't learn English during that time, "he wasn't part of the exile cliques" chosen by Americans to introduce democratic government. By 2006, with terrorism running rampant, no one, including CIA officials, doubted that the billions spent on Iraq's intelligence and security agency were wasted. At the time, Iraq's prime minister, who didn't trust his intelligence director, appointed the then-obscure al-Basri to lead his own team. Working quietly for years with a handful of trustworthy men and eschewing the usual strong-arm tactics, he gathered information and sent men undercover, ultimately convincing even the Americans that he knew his business. Coker adds vivid accounts of two major supporting characters: Harith Al-Sudani, a college dropout who joined al-Basri's agency, infiltrated an IS cell, and foiled dozens of bombings before being caught, tortured, and beheaded; and Abrar al-Kubaisi, a chemist and "member of the city's educated elite," who was devastated by the chaos and loss of status that followed the invasion. Rejected by IS after offering her expertise in poison, she planned her own mass murder. Much of the text is novelistic, with the author providing perhaps too much insight into her characters' emotions and movements, but the basic story, and many of its intriguing details, will be fresh for most American readers. An eye-opening account revealing that Iraqi competence and heroism were essential to its victory over terrorism. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.