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Posted: 10/8/2007 8:32:03 AM EST
Plan to Sell Iraqis M-16s
Triggers New Controversy
U.S. Provides the Guns,
But Training Is Lacking;
Upgrade From the AK-47
October 8, 2007; Page A1

CAMP TAJI, Iraq -- In this war-ravaged country, a man is often measured by the make of his gun.

When Iraqi soldier Abbas Ali Eadan picked up his brand new, U.S.-made M-16 rifle in August at this sprawling base north of Baghdad, his pride was palpable.

Courtesy of U.S. Army/Staff Sgt. Jon Cupp
Iraqi soldiers practice disassembling and cleaning their newly issued M-16s.
"I can put a cigarette in an ashtray and hit it with my M-16 from far away, like a sniper," boasted the 39-year-old. "The terrorists may have rockets and grenades, but only the Iraqi army has M-16s."

This spring, after years of requests from senior Iraq politicians and generals, the U.S. began quietly converting the Iraqi army over to the M-16, the main rifle for U.S. soldiers for more than 50 years. According to the Pentagon, the Iraqis have thus far purchased about 21,000 of the rifles, worth roughly $27 million, from Colt Defense LLC. Current plans allow for the Iraqis to eventually buy 123,544 of the American-made firearms.

The shift to M-16s is stoking a debate about how the new Iraqi army should be equipped. The M-16 is a far more accurate weapon than the AK-47 assault rifle the Iraqis relied on through decades of fighting. But it's also tougher to maintain and could strain the Iraqis' supply and maintenance systems. More to the point, the Iraqi army is riven with conflicting loyalties, leading many in the U.S. military to worry that the very weapons the U.S. is supplying could be turned against them some day.

"There has been a lot of anxiety about having modern assault rifles fall into the hands of terrorists," says Col. Michael Clark, who advises the Iraqi ground command in Baghdad. "The M-16 is just a much, much better weapon…It can do real damage."

The argument over the M-16 is part of a broader issue that has dogged U.S. efforts to rebuild the Iraqi military since the beginning of the war: Should the U.S. seek to model Iraqi forces after its own -- and in the process familiarize soldiers with advanced, modern American equipment? Or should it simply teach the Iraqi army to better use the weapons and vehicles it already possesses?

During Saddam Hussein's rule, Iraq relied on Soviet-made helicopters, tanks, MiG fighter jets and artillery. Most of that equipment fell into disrepair after the first Gulf War in 1991. After U.S. forces toppled Mr. Hussein in 2003, the armaments were further destroyed or looted.

Having to rebuild the Iraqi army from scratch, the Americans initially equipped the country's forces with confiscated guns and tens of thousands of new AK-47s purchased from Eastern Europe.

Cheap, plentiful and easy to use, the Russian-designed AK-47 has been a staple for armies, warlords and militias of developing countries around the globe. It was the Iraqi army's primary firearm under the country's late deposed leader, Mr. Hussein. In a recent report, the World Bank found that the AKs are still the weapon of choice for poor armies and insurgents because of their "ease of operation, robustness to mistreatment and negligible failure rate."

The M-16, meanwhile, has become an important symbol of a modern Iraq.

"The M-16 elevates the morale of our soldiers before they fight the enemy, because they know it gives them strength," says Maj. Gen. Abdullah Mohammed Kahmees al-Dafaee, who commands all Iraqi ground forces. "It is a new Iraqi army, so we should have new weapons."

Low-ranking Iraqi soldiers in the field would eye their U.S. advisers' M-16s and complain that they would never be more than a second-rate army so long as they carried aging AK-47s. Senior Iraqi officials pressed top U.S. officials to let them buy M-16s, as well as a trove of other more modern equipment.

Throughout 2004, then-Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi urged top U.S. civilian and military officials in Iraq to provide the country's armed forces with American-made tanks, helicopters and planes that would cow insurgents and inspire Iraqi soldiers. Mr. Allawi gained some support from Pentagon officials, who feared that the lightly armed Iraqi troops were being outgunned by insurgents.

Using its own funds -- primarily from oil revenues -- Baghdad last year agreed to buy more than $3 billion in American equipment by the end of 2007. By law, Iraq or any other foreign government wishing to purchase U.S.-made weapons must first get approvals from Congress, the Pentagon and the State Department. The U.S. cleared the way for Iraq to buy armored Humvees, cargo trucks, and communications gear directly from U.S. military contractors. It refused Iraqi requests for more-advanced weapons like M-1 tanks and Apache attack helicopters, citing fears that the weaponry could fall into the hands of insurgents or be used to menace Iraq's neighbors.

More than anything else, the Iraqis wanted M-16s. The Iraqis received their first shipment, of 20,000 guns, earlier this year. Another 21,000 are due to arrive this fall. So far, the U.S. has distributed about 2,400 of the firearms, issuing them only after Iraqis have completed a short training course on the weapon's use and maintenance.

One sweltering afternoon this month, a few dozen Iraqi soldiers in T-shirts and mismatched uniforms made their way to a bustling warehouse here to swap their AK-47s for shrink-wrapped M-16s. The guns were so new they still had "Colt Defense LLC" stickers on their stocks.

After picking up the guns and ammunition magazines, the Iraqi soldiers ambled over to a plastic table and put their fingers on a small glass scanner connected to a Panasonic laptop, which took digital copies of their fingerprints. Iraqi attendants digitally scanned each soldier's iris, took digital recordings of his voice and photographed each soldier with his new rifle.

"My name is Wadih Mohammed. I was born in 1971," one stocky Iraqi lieutenant said into a microphone. The biometric information was burnt onto compact disks and then given to Iraqi authorities as a way of safekeeping the weapons. If one goes missing, the solider assigned the weapon will be held accountable.

The Iraqis spent a total of just three days learning how to fire the weapons, instead of the almost two weeks of training that U.S. soldiers undertake. "In a perfect world, they would get more than three days of training," says Master Sgt. Varon Martinez, a senior member of a military training team here. "But nothing in Iraq is perfect."

The classes were taught by instructors from Military Professionals Resources Inc., a subsidiary of defense contractor L-3 Communications Corp. The company received a $3 million contract to train the Iraqis at Taji through the end of 2007.

"Gentlemen, let's talk about the characteristics of the M-16, from top to bottom," MPRI instructor Jeffrey Goodman said to the Iraqi soldiers gathered around him on a dusty firing range here early one morning.

Mr. Goodman, clad in olive-green pants and suspenders, told the troops that an AK round is narrow so that it typically goes straight through the enemy, limiting damage to tissue. An M-16 round spins much faster and tumbles when it makes contact with the enemy so that "it causes mass casualty in the body."

An Army retiree with 20-odd years in the military, Mr. Goodman demonstrated how to disassemble the weapon and clean it piece by piece, removing any rust and dirt. By the end of the second day, the Iraqis were able to take the weapon apart and reassemble it when they followed along Mr. Goodman's step-by-step demonstration. But many struggled with taking apart the M-16's firing mechanism, which contains numerous small parts.

There were other snafus. The Iraqi supply depot failed to order enough ammunition for the M-16s for all the classes. The first two groups of soldier-students also faced significant shortages of cleaning kits, essential to making the M-16s work. The M-16 is a far more complex weapon than the AK-47 -- with its many springs and pins -- and requires regular upkeep and cleaning or it will cease firing. A stockpile of spare parts must be kept on hand, adding to the strain on the Iraqi army's troubled supply system.

On the third day of training, Mr. Goodman told the Iraqis to lie flat on their stomachs, balance their M-16s on a short stack of sand bags and prepare to fire at paper targets stapled to wooden backstops a short distance away.

When he asked the Iraqi troops where they should shoot, they jubilantly yelled, "B'nose," Arabic for "in the center." Mr. Goodman directed them to open fire.

Mr. Goodman shook his head as several Iraqis gripped the M-16s as if they were AK-47s, causing their bullets to miss their targets by a long shot. "This is not a Kalashnikov!" he shouted, using the nickname for an AK-47. "You're using a precision weapon."

Some U.S. trainers say the switch to the M-16 will help improve the professionalism of the Iraqi force and its performance on the battlefield. Sgt. Martinez has noticed that Iraqi soldiers behave differently in firefights when they have the more-precise M-16. "I saw them crouch on one knee and aim the weapon rather than just spraying," he said. "It was like, 'Wait. If I aim I can actually hit something. I don't need to just spray.' "

When the Iraqi troops at Camp Taji finished test firing their M-16s at the rifle range, they gingerly laid down their rifles and began comparing their bullet-ridden paper targets. Slightly more than half of the Iraqi soldiers met the basic marksmanship standards needed to pass the course.

The remainder were ordered to show up the following day for a second chance -- although there were no real consequences for those who failed at both attempts. Starved for recruits, the Iraqi military rarely expels soldiers for technical lapses or ethical infractions.

Senior U.S. commanders like Lt. Gen. James Dubik say they are confident that the Iraqis will eventually learn to operate the M-16s effectively. But training them to use the new weapon will take time that the U.S. may not have.

A recent Government Accountability Office report found that the number of Iraqi army brigades capable of operating independently of U.S. forces had declined to six in July from 10 in March.

After the initial enthusiasm of getting the M-16 rifles wore off, some Iraqi soldiers began to complain that they missed their old AK-47s.

Ali Jassim, an Iraqi soldier who received his M-16 in August, worried that the gun's bullets, lighter than those used in AK-47s, won't be strong enough to quickly kill combatants. "To tell you the truth, I would prefer my old AK," Mr. Jassim said. "The M-16s may be better for Americans, but the AKs are better for Iraqis."

Write to Yochi J. Dreazen at yochi.dreazen@wsj.com and Greg Jaffe at greg.jaffe@wsj.com

Link Posted: 10/8/2007 8:37:27 AM EST
Link Posted: 10/8/2007 8:43:46 AM EST
Wow, it sounds like the Iraqis believe that having the M16 makes you a better soldier because it magically allows bullets to hit targets when you "aim." I guess its better than spray-n-pray with AKs but you can easily use the sights on AKs and hit stuff too.

So M16 rifles will make the Iraqi army better? They need more training and leadership to really do better.
Link Posted: 10/8/2007 9:27:35 AM EST
The problem I'm seeing that even with training is the Iraqis are not going to clean and maintain their M16s. Their used to barely cleaning their AKs and when they did they used diesel which I don't think would work in an M16. When we leave there I am sure they will be going back to the AKs, and if they do where will those M16s end up?
Link Posted: 10/8/2007 9:36:40 AM EST

Originally Posted By Nakanokalronin:
AKs and when they did they used diesel which I don't think would work in an M16. When we leave there I am sure they will be going back to the AKs, and if they do where will those M16s end up?

I personally think this is a VERY good move.

1. Iraqi money flowing to an American business.
2. Iraqi army getting a better weapon system that still requires support from American Logistics.
3. If the Iraqi's tell us to f*ck-off and we stop supporting them, their M16's will die without proper PM and replacement parts.

So they get a weapon system that requires US Support and if it falls into insurgent hands will likely not be maintained and fail to function. Sounds like a win-win situation to me.

Anyone remember what happened to the F-14 Tomcats we sold to Iran? They are rotting in the desert somewhere and stopped flying the day we pulled out support.

Even if we were dumb enough to equip them with Abrams tanks, if we stop supporting them with technical advisors and parts, their equipment will die.
Link Posted: 10/8/2007 9:40:43 AM EST
This might be a good move like when Iran bought F-14's. Over time they will surrender the AK's and AR's. In 5 years, 80% of these rifles will not operate, they will probably feed them crap ammo and over time, there will be very few M16's that they can turn on us. And if we are smart (we're not), we can flood the parts market with inferior stuff just to make them even more unreliable....
Link Posted: 10/8/2007 6:24:37 PM EST
AFAIK, the Iranian F-14s are still flying today in some form.
Link Posted: 10/8/2007 10:23:37 PM EST
[Last Edit: 10/8/2007 10:26:22 PM EST by bigez]
So the U.S. is going to ship $3 billion of various weapons over there (including 123,544 M16s) yet many Senators still say that my AR will somehow end up in terrorist hands if it's not banned.....hmmmmmm.
Link Posted: 10/9/2007 4:50:04 AM EST
They just want to use the weapon of the Americans simply because its the weapon of the Americans. If I was them Id just stick with AKs.
Link Posted: 10/9/2007 5:22:29 AM EST
If it's that much of a morale boost then it's a good idea. My only problem with the article is it says

the M-16, the main rifle for U.S. soldiers for more than 50 years
Unless i fell into a timewarp and this is 2014.
Link Posted: 10/9/2007 5:37:40 AM EST
If it provides a sense of pride and motivation, then it is a good thing. I know I can't shoot an AK anywhere near as well I can shoot an AR. So now, I don't own any AKs. You have to have faith and confidence in your weapon and if it helps you realize your abilities, it affects your mindset.
Link Posted: 10/9/2007 6:51:57 PM EST
Why'd it have to be Colts? Couldn't we have sent them all the Oly's they needed and kept the good rifles over here?
Link Posted: 10/9/2007 7:40:02 PM EST
The Iranian F14's fly, but their offensive avionics were sabotaged after the Shah fell from power, cannot launch Phoenix missiles et al.
Link Posted: 10/9/2007 7:44:24 PM EST
Its not about gvivng them a better weapon...its about contarcts and money...the M16 didnt make the ARVN a better fighting force..what ever weapon you use the will to fight and be free has to be there..its like the saying goes....good plane inexperienced pilot less capable plane better pilot....better pilot wins just like the better soldier,the insurgents will end up with M16s that have only been droped once.
Link Posted: 10/9/2007 7:53:32 PM EST
They damn sure can't have my Oly. So put that in your kool aid.
Link Posted: 10/10/2007 12:24:04 AM EST

Originally Posted By jakeswensonmt:
The Iranian F14's fly, but their offensive avionics were sabotaged after the Shah fell from power, cannot launch Phoenix missiles et al.

Wrong, they test fired a AIM-54 on a MiG-25...
Link Posted: 10/11/2007 12:58:50 PM EST
Were these A4s set up for 3 round burst or full auto ?? Methinks the straight
FA set-up would be a simpler thing to maintain, given the envronment. Now
if they get tired of all that precision, then they can pipeline 'em back to the
states....where they'd make primo gunshow fodder !!
Link Posted: 10/11/2007 2:37:44 PM EST

Originally Posted By Bangz:
If it provides a sense of pride and motivation, then it is a good thing. I know I can't shoot an AK anywhere near as well I can shoot an AR. So now, I don't own any AKs. You have to have faith and confidence in your weapon and if it helps you realize your abilities, it affects your mindset.

I'm with you on this one. Equipment definately makes a differance in the mind of the individuals using it. And, when it comes down to it, a more confident shooter is going to perform better. A big part of what you bring with you is your mindset.
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