Amid escalating fighting in February between the Iraqi government and militant groups with roots in civil war-torn Syria, it appears that Iran—once an enemy of Iraq—helped arm Baghdad’s forces.
Iran armed Iraqi snipers, in particular.
Starting in late 2013, militants led by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria—a.k.a., ISIS—had extended their influence beyond Syria into western Iraq, even capturing the city of Fallujah.
Despite a history of enmity including a bloody eight-year war in the 1980s, Iraq and Iran apparently are working side by side to defeat the Islamists. Iran is also the major supporter of the embattled regime of Syrian president Bashar Al Assad.
U.N. sanctions bar Iran from selling arms, meaning only pariah states such as Syria and Sudan routinely acquire Iranian weaponry. The arms transfers to Iraq are potentially controversial … and certainly represent an important shift in regional politics just 11 years after the United States invaded Iraq and launched a bitter occupation.
Predictably, both Tehran and Baghdad have denied the transfers. But War is Boring has acquired photographic evidence of Iranian weapons in the hands of Iraqi Special Forces soldiers.
The first sighting was of an Iranian .50-caliber sniper rifle, the Sayyad—a licensed version of the Austrian Steyr Hs. 50. This rifle, often sporting a thermal scope, reportedly also equips the pro-Iranian Lebanese group Hezbollah and Syrian regime troops.
Also appearing recently—the Siavash, a 7.62-millimeter derivative of the M40 sniper rifle. Siavash is the result of early attempts by Tehran to develop a reliable lightweight precision weapon for its own army. Iraqi Special Forces apparently use the Siavash rifle with an Iranian-made thermal scope.
The Iraqis seem also to have purchased a limited number of Russian ORSIS T-5000 rifles. Combined with the Iranian weapons, the T-5000s give Iraqi snipers a potentially huge advantage over ISIS marksmen.
The apparent arms transfer between Iran and Iraq is a sign of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki’s longstanding, and strengthening, ties to Tehran.