Insurgent Weapons of the War in Iraq

Last week we took a look at the weapons of the US and its allies in the war in Iraq. Today we are following up with the opposing question: Which weapons did our troops face while fighting in Iraq? This article will attempt to list some of them. Although the entire inventory may never be known because the plethora was vast, we’ve nailed down some of the weapons here.

A Hodgepodge Melting Pot

There is no way to pin down an all-inclusive list of the weapons encountered in Iraq, given the hodgepodge of firearms that are used by insurgents. Aside from that, a grab bag of rifles and submachine guns is floating around. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to the menagerie, with the only qualifying factor being that if it fires a projectile, the insurgents will use it.

AK-47s

The vast majority of weapons captured seem to be of the AK-47 variety. A friend who fought in Fallujah and Ramadi (as well as some other places) reports that the vast majority of weapons his platoon found were of the Soviet Bloc type.

Insurgent AK-47s captured in Iraq.
Insurgent AK-47s captured in Iraq. Every brand of AK can be found in Iraq. (Photo: National Army Museum)

One of the most prevalent AKM variants found in Iraq has been the Tabuk, which is an Iraqi-produced version of the AK-47 that can fire rifle grenades. Other variants include the Chinese Type 56, the Iranian KLF, the Hungarian AMD-65, the Romanian Model 63, the Bulgarian AKM, and the Polish Kbk-AKM. Both folding stock and fixed stock versions of the AK are found.

The AK-74 in 5.45x39mm has also been seen in small numbers in Iraq. Because the 5.45mm ammo is nowhere near as plentiful as 7.62x39mm, it is not used as widely.

Miscellaneous Arms

Rifles

Weapons encountered include the Russian Mosin-Nagant, British .303 Lee-Enfield, the German Mauser 98, FN FAL, G3, SVD sniper rifle, Iranian copies of the MP-5, British Sterling SMG, Soviet PPSH-41 SMG, British Bren Gun, CZ Scorpian SMG, and even an M1 Garand were among the weapons captured in Iraq. The SKS from several countries of origin is also found in some numbers.

Light Machine Guns

Light Machine Guns include the RPK, PKM, and RPD being the most common. On rare occasion, a German MG-42 was known to show up, as did a US Browning 1919A4 .30 caliber machine gun in the Battle of Fallujah.

Heavy Machine Guns/Crew Served Weapons

Large caliber machine guns, anti-aircraft guns, and recoilless rifles have been found mounted on vehicles. The most common Heavy Machine Gun found was the Russian DSHK (12.7x107mm), which can be vehicle-mounted or tripod-mounted.

DSHK Heavy Machine Gun in 12.7mm
The DSHK Heavy Machine Gun in 12.7mm is a formidable weapon to face on the battlefield. (Photo: CBS News)

SPG-9 Recoilless Rifles in 73mm (and others) are also mounted on vehicles or tripods. 106mm recoilless rifles have also been discovered as well as the AGS-17 automatic grenade launcher in very small numbers.

Pistols

Pistols included: Browning Hi-Power, CZ-75, Makarov, Tokarov, Glock 19, Walther P99, Colt 1911, Webley Revolver, Iraqi Tariq pistol. Various mortars are also common in theater.

Rocket Launchers

The RPG-7 and copies from a wide variety of countries is the most often encountered rocket launcher in Iraq. Also found in large numbers is the RPG-18, which resembles the US LAW anti-tank weapon. Limited numbers of the RPG-2  and RPG-22 have also been used.

Not surprisingly, the RPG-7 is everywhere in Iraq. Highly portable and effective, it is a perfect weapon for terrorists. (Photo: Cryptom)

Anti-Tank Guided Missiles

The AT-5 Konkurs has been used against US troops in Iraq. In addition, MILAN and HOT ATGMs have been found in possession of insurgents. The Russian MALYUTKA and FAGOT systems have also been present. These systems can engage not only ground vehicles but also aircraft.

Grenades

Grenades in Iraq come from several countries, including Russia, China, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Egypt, and others. Most of the grenades are fragmentary in nature. They are in plentiful supply.

Sniper Weapons

The Al Kadesih strongly resembles the Russian SVD sniper rifle and is chambered for the same 7.62x54R cartridge. It is made in Iraq and sports a short 4x scope. The rifle does not exhibit a good cheek weld on the stock. The backup iron sights can be used while the scope is still mounted. It feeds from a 10-round magazine. The receiver is stamped sheet metal and the barrel is 24 inches long.

The Tabuk sniper rifle is Iraqi-made and features a barrel that is approximately 23.5 inches long. Caliber is 7.62x39mm, the same as the standard AK-47, and it can use standard AK magazines. It fires in semi-automatic mode. Given the limitations of the cartridge, it is not really a sniper rifle in the true sense, but rather a designated marksman rifle. It is typically equipped with a low-power scope.

The Tabuk really can’t be called a true sniper rifle. More like a Designated Marksman Rifle, the 7.62x39mm cartridge doesn’t lend itself to precision or long range. It extends beyond the range of the standard AK-47 while still using AK magazines. (Photo: Firearm Central Wiki Fandom)

Certainly, there are other sniper rifles, but these are the most commonly encountered examples.

IEDs

Improvised Explosive Devices were used so widely that it was a massive threat everywhere. IEDs dictated that Coalition Forces in Iraq confine themselves to armored vehicles and travel at high rates of speed. Often, they traveled through farmers’ fields in order to avoid roads and the IEDs associated with roads.

The IED just sits there, not requiring the insurgent to expose himself, which favors the insurgent. Our troops had nobody to fight directly in such instances. Even when IEDs are uncovered without friendly casualties, the insurgent is often not caught. This put the advantage in the lap of the insurgents with this weapon. If troops were dismounted, they often had to use metal detectors to clear roads and areas where they were patrolling, which slowed their progress drastically.

60% of US fatalities and wounded in Iraq were due to Improvised Explosive Devices. Further effects of IEDs were that they undermined local governments, caused mass casualties, harmed the credibility of counter-insurgent efforts, and displayed a constant stream of atrocities, which was broadcast everywhere.

Some were Vehicle Borne (VBIEDs) IEDs, either stationary or driven as suicide bombs by insurgents.

Captured components of IEDs.
Captured components of IEDs. The full spectrum of munitions is used to make IEDs. (Photo: Wikimedia)

They could be concealed in trash on the side of the road, in soda cans, in animal carcasses, on people, buried under roads, and just about every other way that the human mind can conceive. Some were wire-detonated, while others were remotely detonated. Remote car alarms, garage door openers, cordless phones, and cell phones were common ways to initiate the IED explosion. All manner of explosives were used, including military shells, rockets, and munitions, and propane tanks. Plastic explosives were likely shipped in from other countries.

US forces began using more tactics to combat the IEDs, including additional armor on vehicles. electronic jammers were also used against radio-controlled IEDs. These measures helped to lower casualty rates caused by IEDs. Additionally, Coalition forces became more skilled at locating and disabling IEDs, which also helped.

It is impossible to list a definitive type of IED that is used by insurgents, as they vary so greatly in construction and composition. Generally speaking, IEDs were attributed to more civilian deaths than any other weapon.

In Conclusion

We can see that the weaponry used in Iraq is all over the board, even including weapons from WWII. Maybe some of our readers have 1st-hand experiences of their own; we’d love to hear what you have to say.

Jim Davis served in the PA Dept. of Corrections for 16 ½ years as a corrections officer in the State Correctional Institute at Graterford and later at SCI Phoenix. He served on the Corrections Emergency Response Team (CERT), several of those years as a sniper, and also the Fire Emergency Response Team (FERT). For 25 years, he was a professional instructor, teaching topics including Defensive Tactics, Riot Control and Tactical Operations, Immediate Responder, and cognitive programs as an adjunct instructor at the DOC Training Academy. He was then promoted to the title of corrections counselor, where he ran a caseload and facilitated cognitive therapy classes to inmates. His total service time was close to 29 years. He was involved in many violent encounters on duty, including incidents of fatalities.

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