Summary and book reviews of The Spymaster of Baghdad by Margaret Coker

The Spymaster of Baghdad

A True Story of Bravery, Family, and Patriotism in the Battle against ISIS

by Margaret Coker

The Spymaster of Baghdad by Margaret Coker X
The Spymaster of Baghdad by Margaret Coker
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  • Published:
    Feb 2021, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Peggy Kurkowski
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About this Book

Book Summary

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.

The Spymaster of Baghdad tells the dramatic yet intimate account of how a covert Iraqi intelligence unit called "the Falcons" came together against all odds to defeat ISIS. The Falcons, comprised of ordinary men with little conventional espionage background, infiltrated the world's most powerful terrorist organization, ultimately turning the tide of war against the terrorist group and bringing safety to millions of Iraqis and the broader world. Centered around the relationship between two brothers, Harith al-Sudani, a rudderless college dropout who was recruited to the Falcons by his all-star younger brother Munaf, and their eponymous unit commander Abu Ali, The Spymaster of Baghdad follows their emotional journey as Harith volunteers for the most dangerous mission imaginable. With piercing lyricism and thrilling prose, Coker's deeply-reported account interweaves heartfelt portraits of these and other unforgettable characters as they navigate the streets of war-torn Baghdad and perform heroic feats of cunning and courage.

The Falcons' path crosses with that of Abrar, a young, radicalized university student who, after being snubbed by the head of the Islamic State's chemical weapons program, plots her own attack. At the near-final moment, the Falcons intercept Abrar's deadly plan to poison Baghdad's drinking water and arrest her in the middle of the night—just one of many covert counterterrorism operations revealed for the first time in the book.

Ultimately, The Spymaster of Baghdad is a page-turning account of wartime espionage in which ordinary people make extraordinary sacrifices for the greater good. Challenging our perceptions of terrorism and counterterrorism, war and peace, Iraq and the wider Middle East, American occupation and foreign intervention, The Spymaster of Baghdad is a testament to the power of personal choice and individual action to change the course of history—in a time when we need such stories more than ever.

Chapter 1
Blessings of an Oldest Child

Harith al-Sudani was born with large brown eyes, a broad forehead, and a weak chin, creating a sense of imbalance. Nothing about his looks or his upbringing in an eastern Baghdad slum would lead anyone to think he would become a hero. Nevertheless, his parents considered him a blessing—the answer to eight long years of prayers for an heir.

From his mother's point of view, Harith was a delight. He was an easy child who was always eager to please. He would fetch things for Um Harith while she was cooking and put his toys away, keeping the house tidy the way she liked it.

But as soon as Harith was walking and talking, his father, Abu Harith, began to worry that his son had little in the way of a backbone. It was unseemly for the oldest son of a father with ambitions like his to be such a mama's boy, motivated by a smile and a hug. In Abu Harith's view, tenderness was as useful as locusts at harvesttime. Moreover, in the Iraq of the early ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

In The Spymaster of Baghdad, Coker takes us behind Middle East headlines to get a glimpse of a story most often hidden or obscured in journalistic reporting: the service and sacrifice of hundreds of patriotic Iraqis seeking to defend their country. Through the moving accounts of Munaf, Harith and Abrar, Coker poignantly shows how those notions of patriotism took different forms with divergent ends in a country continually fighting for its existence...continued

Full Review Members Only (980 words).

(Reviewed by Peggy Kurkowski).

Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
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.

Booklist
An intensely suspenseful, superbly well-reported, and significant tale.

Library Journal
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.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
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.

Author Blurb Phil Klay, award-winning author of Redeployment and Missionaries
Margaret Coker's The Spymaster of Baghdad is a stunning and meticulous account of exceptional bravery and espionage carried out by Iraqis in the most dangerous stages of the war against ISIS. These are the type of stories we so rarely get to hear, and we are lucky to have journalists like Coker to tell them.

Author Blurb Tamer Elnoury, covert operative and New York Times bestselling author of American Radical
A thrilling and skillfully reported tale of the invisible heroes of the Iraqi fight against terrorism, that, at its heart, is a poignant story of family and sacrifice.

Author Blurb Peter Bergen, New York Times bestselling author of Manhunt
The Spymaster of Baghdad is the amazing true story of the secret war against ISIS in Iraq, which Margaret Coker tells with great verve and authority.

Author Blurb Anne Speckhard, Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE)
Oftentimes, real life narrated by a master story teller reads better than any spy novel one could come across. The Spymaster of Baghdad, written by the intrepid Margaret Coker, is a heartbreaking and courageous story well worth reading and sharing with the entire world. We all owe a debt of gratitude to Abu Ali Al-Basri and the Iraqi Falcons Unit for their important role in the fight against the most lethal terrorist group of our time.

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Beyond the Book

The Women of ISIS

Known for its brutal track record of executions and torture of hostages and civilians (including women and children), some may find it surprising that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) jihadist group attracts a fair number of female recruits. While there are mitigating factors that vary for each woman, for many the appeal seems to lie (somewhat ironically for a group so harshly restrictive of women) in the increased level of agency that membership in this organization can provide.

According to the London School of Economics (LSE) Middle East Centre, as of July 2018 there were over 4,700 female members of ISIS. Among the myriad jihadist movements and groups formed and proliferating over the last two decades, ISIS has proven to be...

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