Weapons: Iraq Adopts the M16 and M4


May 17, 2007: The Iraqi army is switching from the AK-47 assault rifle, to the U.S. M16 and M4. Iraqi officers and some NCOs will get the shorter M4, while everyone else will get the M16. The first classes of Iraqi army recruits are already training with the M16. There are several reasons for the switch. For one thing, the M16 is two pounds lighter than the AK-47, and more accurate. It simplifies ammo supply, especially with all the U.S. and Iraqi units working together. There is also a morale factor. Many Iraqis may not like American troops, but they certainly respect their military skills. That respect extends to the weapons, and Iraqi troops see their AK-47s as something losers use, while M16s and M4s are the weapons of winners. You get the idea, so do the Iraqis.

On the negative side, the M16 requires more maintenance to prevent jamming. Many tests have been conducted on this subject, and it's quite clear that M16s have more jams, in dusty and sandy conditions, than do AK-47s. Historically, Iraqi troops have never been diligent about keeping their weapons clean. This will have to change, or Iraqi troops will start losing confidence in the M16. The M16, in the hands of trained shooters, is more accurate than the AK-47, and that could turn out to be a key advantage if the Iraqi army follows through on providing adequate target practice.

The M16 is also a more expensive rifle, costing about $600 each. The second hand AK-47s the Iraqis are now using are worth less than a hundred dollars. Given the culture of corruption in Iraq, measures have been taken to try and reduce the temptation of soldiers to sell their new rifles. Each Iraqi soldier that is issued an M16, has his name, fingerprints and retinal scan taken, as well as the serial number of the weapon, and the data is sent to a central database in Baghdad. This attempt at curbing corruption may turn out to be more interesting, and influential, than equipping Iraqis with new rifles.


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