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Small Arms In The Gulf

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Article first appeared at NRAmedia.org

NRAmedia – This article first appeared in American Rifleman, April 1991. Cover design by William F. Parkerson; Photo by Andrew Popper, U.S. News and World Report.

By American Rifleman Staff

The videocasts of Operation Desert Storm gave us heavy coverage of missiles, aircraft, ships, and tanks and their armament, but little time was devoted to the small arms that figured in the battle.

As a result, many members have asked for a rundown on just what pistols, rifles and machine guns the U.N. Coalition forces had and what arms they faced. A recurrent question concerned the identification of the most photographed gun of the war, i.e. Saddam Hussein’s pistol.

A 1957-vintage prototype of the M60 machine gun that has seen combat duty with U.S. troops in jungles and deserts.


Starting with handguns, Saddam’s pistol appeared to be one of the 9 mm FN Hi Powers that Iraq purchased circa 1960 to complement its inventory of 7.62 mm TT-33 Tokarevs and later 9 mm CZ75s. Iraq also is said to have made a version of Beretta’s 9 mm Model 1951 “Brigadier.” The British 9 mm Sterling submachine gun is the Iraqi standard.

The AK-47 is the standby of the Iraqi armed forces, as well as the coalition members Egypt and Syria.

Iraqi rifles reportedly include at least one domestically produced version each of a 5.56×45 mm chambered AK (identified by Jane’s as the Tabuk), a 7.62×39 AK copy, a version of the 7.62x54R mm Dragunov, plus a variety of 7.62×39 mm SKS, AK-47 and AKM rifles from the Eastern Bloc. From the same area came Iraq’s 7.62×39 mm RPD and RPK light machine guns. It also has heavier machine guns in calibers 7.5×54 mm to 12.7×108 mm from various sources, including France and Belgium, but mainly from the Eastern Bloc and the People’s Republic of China.

The Steyr AUG was used in relatively small numbers by some of the Arab allies in the Gulf conflict. It’s a 5.56×45 mm.

Undoubtedly there are also quantities of obsolescent small arms and arms captured from Iran that Iraq was forced to put back in service.

The United Nations Coalition nations under arms in that area that most were mentioned in land, sea and air reports included Australia, Bahrain, Britain, Canada, Egypt, France, Italy, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) and the U.S. All have small arms not only for their infantry but for their air and naval units. The possible range of Coalition small arms is so vast that only the more common versions will be noted.

The GIAT FAMAS rifle was in use by French troops (some of whom used the SIG 540 ) and by the United Arab Emirates .

In pistols, the 9 mm NATO chambering predominates, with the U.S. retaining significant numbers of the veteran .45 M1911A1s along with the 9 mm M9s. The Browning Hi Power is standard with Australia, Bahrain, Britain, Canada, Kuwait, Oman and Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E.; Egypt has its 9 mm Helwan and 1951 Beretta; France has its MAB and MAC 9 mms plus some from Beretta and SIG; Italy, unsurprisingly, uses Berettas; Morocco has MACs, MABs and HKs. Several nations avoid the NATO norm and use other sidearms, including Syria’s Soviet-made 7.62 mm Tokarevs or 9 mm Makarovs, Turkey’s domestically made .380 cal. MKEs and Qatar’s .380 HK4s and more than a few “non-issue” handguns, including revolvers, were seen worn by U.S. and Allied soldiers.

In rifles, too, the NATO chamberings, 7.62×51 and 5.56×45 mm, prevailed. The U.S., particularly its Navy, has 7.62 mm M14s, and all its forces have M16A1s and M16A2s. Most of the other coalition nations also issue more than one rifle and, as the chart shows, only Syria depends mainly on Soviet arms.

Saudi troops who swept into Kuwait City were anned with the H&K G3 rifle, one of the 7.62×51 arms still in wide wartime use.

In machine guns, the chart leaves no doubt that the .50 cal. Browning M2HB saw plenty of use. Neither submachine guns nor shotguns are charted, but the number of prisoners taken must have demanded a huge quantity of guard weapons, and shotguns and submachine guns are logical choices.

The Italian BM59 rifle is based on the design of the U.S. M1 Garand.

At this writing, the TV screens are showing a variety of rifles, handguns and shotguns that would defy any cataloger or chart maker. All are being fired skyward, to the horror of those who know what goes up must come down, but to the delight of the Kuwaitis and Saudis, who are celebrating their—and our—unprecedented victory.

The FAMAS rifle marked French adherence to NATO small anns specifications after years of going its own way in the infantry arms development field.

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