On March 19, 2003, Iraqi General Mohammed Al-Rawi (Yigal Naor) flees his residence amid the bombardment of Baghdad. Before leaving the compound, he passes a notebook to his aide Seyyed, instructing him to warn his officers to get to their safehouses and wait for his signal.
Four weeks later, U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon) and his platoon check a warehouse for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. To Miller’s surprise, the warehouse has not been secured, with looters making their way in and out, as soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division are too few to do much. After a firefight with a sniper, Miller finds that the warehouse is empty, the third consecutive time he has found nothing. Later, at a debriefing, Miller brings up the point that the majority of the intel given to him is inaccurate and anonymous. High-ranking officials quickly dismiss his concerns. Afterward, CIA agent Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson) tells him that the next place he is to search was inspected by a UN team two months before and that it too has been confirmed empty.
Meanwhile, U.S. Department of Defense official Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear) welcomes returning Iraqi exile politician Ahmed Zubaidi (Raad Rawi) at the airport. There Poundstone is questioned by Wall Street Journal reporter Lawrie Dayne (Amy Ryan). She says she needs to speak directly to “Magellan”, but Poundstone brushes her off.
Meanwhile, while checking another unpromising site, Miller is approached by an Iraqi who calls himself “Freddy” (Khalid Abdalla). Freddy tells him that he saw some Ba’ath Party VIPs meeting in a nearby home. They include Al-Rawi and his officers and aides in Baghdad, who are discussing the current situation. Al-Rawi decides to wait for the Americans to offer him a deal, and attack if they don’t. As the meeting ends, Miller and his men burst into the house. Al-Rawi narrowly escapes, but Seyyed is captured. Before Miller can extract much information, Seyyed is taken away by Special Operations personnel – however, Miller keeps Al-Rawi’s notebook. Dayne complains to Poundstone again, but he states that the stakes are much larger than her role in selling newspapers.