Iraqi Army Trading AK-47 for M-16

The Iraqi military is trading in its AK-47s for shiny new M-16s.

Iraqi Army Trading AK-47 for M-16 In a move that could be the most enduring imprint of U.S. influence in the Arab world, American military officials in Baghdad have begun a crash program to outfit the entire Iraqi army with M-16 rifles. The initiative marks a sharp break for a culture steeped in the traditions of the Soviet-era AK-47 Kalashnikov assault rifle, a symbol of revolutionary zeal and third-world simplicity that is ubiquitous among the militaries of the Middle East.

“We in the U.S. know that the M-16 is superior to the AK … it’s more durable,” said Army Col. Stephen Scott, who’s in charge of helping the Iraqi army get all the equipment it needs to outfit its forces. “The Iraqis have embraced that … and the fact that it is U.S. manufactured and supplied. They are very big on U.S.-produced [foreign military sales] materials,” he said in an interview with military bloggers this month.

So far, the U.S. military has helped the Iraqi army purchase 43,000 rifles – a mix of full-stock M-16A2s and compact M-4 carbines. Another 50,000 rifles are currently on order, and the objective is to outfit the entire Iraqi army with 165,000 American rifles in a one-for-one replacement of the AK-47. “Our goal is to give every Iraqi soldier an M-16A2 or an M-4,” Scott said. “And as the Iraqi army grows, we will adjust.”

Scott added the mass of AK-47s from various manufacturers floating through the Iraqi army’s inventory could cause maintenance and reliability problems. Getting both U.S. and Iraqi forces on the same page when it comes to basic weaponry is part of the argument for M-16 outfitting. “I’m also a fan of AKs,” Scott said. “But keep in mind most of these AKs have been sitting around in bunkers or whatnot for 30 or 40 years [and] are in various stages of disrepair.”

[…]

“Most of the soldiers think they will be just like the Americans, and that is making them very happy,” said Capt. Rafaat Mejal Ahmed, the Iraqi 1st Division weapons and ammunition officer, in a Marine Corps release. “They think the modern technology will make them more powerful.”

Interesting. There’s not much doubt that the M-16 is a more accurate weapon, especially compared to decades-old AKs. On the other hand, it’s incredibly hard to keep clean in a desert environment — and much less forgiving of being dirty than that Soviet counterpart.

The cultural thing works both ways. On the one hand, it could be seen as a symbol of American imperialism. On the other, it’s also a symbol of a transformation into a more modern military force and a break with the bad old days of Saddam.

via Defense Tech

UPDATE: Matt Sanchez describes the AK as “a rattling weapon that is inaccurate and clunky” and got mixed reaction when he discussed the change with soldiers in Anbar province.

FILED UNDER: Iraq War, Military Affairs, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. I may be reading too much into this, but it’s also possible that this is a sign of a more disciplined and better trained Iraqi army. Your point above is quite accurate:

    “On the other hand, it’s incredibly hard to keep clean in a desert environment — and much less forgiving of being dirty than that Soviet counterpart.”

    The US and other modern armies that use the M-16 counter this issue with training and rigorous discipline. Keeping your weapon clean and in working order is a very high priority.

    If, and this is a big if, the Iraqi army is really ready to switch to the M-16, it’s definitely an encouraging sign in the ongoing war. If, on the other hand, it turns out not to be ready for it, that’s also a signal of how things are going.

  2. Paul Barnes says:

    What about the possibility that when the US leaves Iraq, they will leave large amounts of armaments over there? Could they be preparing the Iraqi army to use this?

  3. yetanotherjohn says:

    Paul,

    I’m not sure I understand your point. Are you suggesting that if a democrat gets elected in November the US military will just drop its weapons and catch the next helicopter off the embassy roof? And if there was some thinking about a plan for leaving Iraq, wouldn’t leaving the AK-47 make more sense from a purely practical point of view.

    I think the more telling point is this quote.

    “Most of the soldiers think they will be just like the Americans, and that is making them very happy,” said Capt. Rafaat Mejal Ahmed

    The idea that the Iraqi army is being ‘upgraded’ to be on par with the American army can potentially be a major psychological factor. Just as distinguishing them from the jihadi warriors who use the AK-47.

  4. Tlaloc says:

    I’ve never touched either one but I had a friend who was a gunnery sergeant in the army. He was pretty firmly of the opinion that the m16 was better- provided the user knew what they were doing and they were fighting in a pristine environment. In real world applications where you have partisans fighting in less than class 1 clean room the Ak is just a better choice.

    I can’t imagine it makes sense to take the poorly trained Iraqi army fighting in the desert and replace the weapon they know with one that is much less forgiving and foreign to them. Seems dumb.

    On the other hand it will be interesting to see just how long it takes the m16s to show up on the black market.

  5. legion says:

    “We in the U.S. know that the M-16 is superior to the AK … it’s more durable,” said Army Col. Stephen Scott, who’s in charge of helping the Iraqi army get all the equipment it needs to outfit its forces.

    Wha? I admit, I was in the Air Force, but I’ve known a fair number of people in the Army and Marines, and I have _never_ heard a statement like that made before by _any_ of them. As Tlaloc’s friend noted, the M-16 is fine if it’s kept up, but in an environment like Iraq, with the discipline standards and resources of the fledgling Iraqi Army, I cannot imagine this Colonel’s statement being taken seriously.

  6. James Joyner says:

    Yeah, I’m torn on this one. No doubt that M-16 is more accurate and a better range weapon. But the AK-47 is virtually idiot proof.

    If the Iraqis are using decades-old rifles, though, and we’re giving them M16A2s, that’d almost certainly be an upgrade.

  7. Tlaloc says:

    It’d be pretty easy to paint this as yet another give away to the MI complex. Not saying I think the charge would necessarily be fair in this case, but it’d be an easy argument to make.

  8. Ugh says:

    It’d be pretty easy to paint this as yet another give away to the MI complex.

    Ya’ think? With the Colonel making comments like:

    The Iraqis have embraced that … and the fact that it is U.S. manufactured and supplied. They are very big on U.S.-produced [foreign military sales] materials

    And how is it that the freaking Iraqi army can’t afford new AK47s?

    And I’m sure this will work:

    A system that registers each rifle with the individual who receives it using biometric data such as thumb prints and eye scans is meant to address concerns over U.S. weapons winding up in enemy hands. A July 2007 Government Accountability Office report concluded that as many as 190,000 weapons delivered to the Iraqi army were not accounted for and could’ve wound up in terrorist caches.

  9. Tlaloc says:

    A system that registers each rifle with the individual who receives it using biometric data such as thumb prints and eye scans is meant to address concerns over U.S. weapons winding up in enemy hands.

    I really tend to think that that’s a horrible idea.

    If I were AQI the first thing I’d do is steal a few rifles belonging to Shia members of the Ministry of the Interior and use them to assassinate some Sunni tribal members. Leave the rifles at the scene. If the Ministry sits on the results even better- now you can start a whisper campaign that the MoI is killing popular tribal sunnis and covering it up.

    Repeat as necessary.