We hear bombings outside. Inside a house, Iraqi men are mobilizing to leave. In particular, they are waiting for one guy, General Al Rawi. Before he leaves, he tells his men to meet him at the safe houses. The camera pans out and we see Baghdad is under attack.
We go to Chief Roy Miller (Matt Damon) and his Mobile Exploitation Team (MET) where they are about to raid a site where a solid intelligence source has named it a confirmed site for chemical and biological WMD. Their job is to discover evidence of WMDs in Iraq, something the whole world and US is waiting anxiously for, as it is one of the ‘sole’ reasons for the invasion. In their Humvees, they reach near the site where another army team, even though with a fairly large platoon, is unable to secure the place from civilian looters, who are grabbing and carrying anything they can get their hands on out of the site. Roy is trying to get his team into the site to deactivate and secure the WMD site but is not given any assistance by the other team. It is very chaotic. They are told by the leader of the other team that there is a sniper holed up in the building site. After some tactical discussion, Roy and his team move in. They sniff out the sniper and take him down. After donning their masks and equipment, they survey the site in darkness, only to realize it was empty. Roy comments this is the 3rd straight time they’ve come up ‘cold’.
Back in the airport, we see reporters gathering for the arrival of the soon-to-be appointed Iraqi minister. Lawrie Dayne, a WSJ reporter, goes to her source, Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear, a Pentagon Intelligence) and asks him for more tips on “Magellan’. He says he’s trying but he’s given her all he’s got and the information is very sensitive. She is quite unhappy about this; he ignores her and goes to greet the minister guy as they leave for the Green Zone (a secured place that was once Saddam’s republic palace. Even them it is in parts & ruins). Poundstone is pushing an agenda of democracy for Iraq but it is constantly being challenged by the rampant chaos in the country. They have a meeting and you can see some animosity between Poundstone and a CIA Intel guy Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson) who seems like a veteran in Iraqi affairs. Martin raises the issue to Poundstone that they cannot run Iraq on their own they need help from the old guard, and that they have yet to find WMDs. Poundstone disagrees and says it’s just a matter of time.
Roy Miller returns to his camp and goes to look for his boss. He tells him that the intelligence does not seem to add up. His boss tells him nicely to shove it and says he cannot question the intelligence. Roy is not satisfied and at a group meeting, he brings it up, saying for the last few times all his team has gotten is a ‘donut’. He is shut up by being told that the intelligence source is reliable and all info has been verified, and that’s that. Martin Brown is at this group meeting and as Roy leaves to check out another source, Martin approaches him and says he suspects the same and gives his number to Roy to contact him if anything crops up. Roy goes to the Al Mansour site (on the way they are mobbed by a huge crowd who are very angry because they have no water) and begins digging up holes to find the WMDs.
Meanwhile, General Al Rawi and his old guard of senior ranking Iraqi army officers are meeting at one of the safe houses. They begin to discuss what to do with the American soldiers having invaded Iraq. General Al Rawi appears very calm and wise, and he advises that they wait and see. Unknowingly, an Iraqi civilian in that area going to his car has noticed the unusual group heading into the house. While Roy and his team are still digging holes, suddenly there is some commotion with one of Roy’s officers. He goes to see what the problem is, and his soldier is sitting atop the Iraqi civilian with the limp, pushing his head into the sand. The man is struggling, obviously feeling very upset. Roy tells his men to ease off and the Iraqi civilian starts to rant at Roy. Roy waits for him to finish and calm down before asking him what he wants. The Iraqi guy says he has information to share but he did not expect to be treated like dirt for doing so. Roy asks what is it and the guy says he saw this strange bunch of guys heading into the house, surrounded by bodyguards with AK-47s. Roy has the gut feeling that this info is a live one and rounds his men up for an attack. One of Roy’s guys prefers to do things by the book and is quite reluctant to do anything outside of their orders. However, this time around, he gives in. Roy says they can’t roll up in their Humvees and so they steal some beat-down cars and follow the Iraqi guy (Freddy) to the house. Just as they arrive they start to notice some of the participants are about to leave. They launch an attack and in the exchange, Roy spots General Al Rawi (who escapes by the back) and identifies him as the Jack of Clubs (in the deck of cards with Saddam’s army photos). They capture the meeting host, who has a little black book supposedly containing addresses of the safe-houses and plans. Roy interrogates the guy (with Freddy translating), who says only Al Rawi has the info on WMD sites, the others do not know. Just as they are about to take the prisoners back, 3 army helicopters filled with special forces come in and bully the MET around. They take the prisoners away. Roy manages to sneak the book on Freddy to get it away from the Special Forces (who are very antagonistic and oddly on different sides as Roy). Roy is puzzled how the Special Forces knew of their raid so quickly and why he was denied his only real lead on the WMD sites. Poundstone is informed of the capture, and he and Lawrie’s ‘arrangement’ sours, as he is unable to provide her with more updates.
Roy gets the book back and calls Martin about it. (There was a short tense scene where Freddy was running away and Roy and his men were frantically looking for him thinking Freddy betrayed them and ran off with the book. He can’t run far because of his limp.) Roy’s team splits into 2 (some of them didn’t want to go rogue). They agree to meet at the pool in the Republic palace, where they see people having fun, drinking beer and eating Dominoes pizza. Roy gives Martin the black book and says he needs to get to the meeting host guy because he knows where to find Al Rawi. Martin says he’ll do what he can. Lawrie spots Roy and makes her move on him for info; he says he’ll keep it in mind. In his room, he looks up her articles on the net and finds that her articles cites very similar coincidental sources of the WMD sites as his Intel brief does.
The meeting host is being tortured for information. He keeps mentioning about the book. Poundstone suspects Martin has it. Martin calls Roy in and says he managed to get him into the prison. He gives him a million dollars to bribe the meeting host NOT to reveal anything to his interrogators (under Poundstone). Roy is surprised as he thought all Americans are on the same side; Martin tells him not to be naïve. Roy and Freddy (as translator) go to the prison and make up a story to see the meeting host. They find him severely injured from the torture. The meeting host asks Roy why he was treated like that; after all, didn’t they agree at the meeting that they would be treated well? Roy asks which meeting, the meeting host says in Jordan. Before he dies of his injuries. Meanwhile, we see that Poundstone has gotten a President’s order to raid the CIA office in Baghdad and they retrieve the black book. Poundstone uses the black book addresses to hunt down the Iraqi guards to assassinate them.
Roy goes to find Lawrie, and he puts the pieces together that the Magellan she is looking for is Al Rawi, who had earlier met Poundstone in Jordan and revealed the true status of Iraq’s WMD program basically, there were none. No one verified the source or the information; she was fed it by Poundstone who used her to spread the news & propagate the myth. Roy realizes that Al Rawi is the only person now who can come out to put all into perspective, but Poundstone, in pushing his agenda of democracy, does not want his underhanded methods to surface he reneged on the promises he made to the Iraqi old guard, promising them a position in the new Iraq but actually he had no intention of doing so. If Iraq did not have an active WMD program in place, they were not a threat and the US should not have entered and basically they need to let Iraqis make up their own government (and not have US put a democracy there).
The hunt for Al Rawi begins Roy to find out the truth, and Poundstone and his men to cover the truth about WMD. Roy is captured by Al Rawi and tortured but he hears it from Al Rawi firsthand what went down in the meeting in Jordan. They are attacked and in the chase, Freddy comes out and shoots Al Rawi. He tells Roy to leave Iraq to the Iraqis to handle. Roy prepares to leave for home, but before he does so, he writes his Intel brief and sends it out to all the newspapers, saying “let’s get it right this time”. His brief is the truth that there are no WMDs in Iraq. The democracy also fails, as none of the Iraqi groups want a puppet Iraqi president who is controlled by the US government.
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