the 98k in Iraq

When I began wwiiafterwwii almost seven years ago, this was one of the first subjects I intended to cover. At that time Iraq was still a current topic, and I thought it would be easy to document the 98k’s history there.

As it turns out, the WWII German 98k in Iraq is complex and full of caveats; poorly-covered by substantive sources. So it took a tad bit longer than planned to complete. Hopefully this subject is still of interest.

K98iraqUSMarines

(A 98k rifle captured by the US Marine Corps during the post-2003 occupation.)

silahreport

(A heavily-modified Mauser rifle captured by American troops.) (photo via Silah Report)

exegermangunboards

(A 98k manufactured by Mauser Werke in 1940. This was a WWII German, post-WWII Czechoslovak-refurbished, then ex-East German gun – an indirect route not uncommon for Iraqi 98ks. The jeem marking on the receiver and barrel is Iraq’s property marking.) (photo via gunboards online forum)

Iraq before, during, and after WWII

map

(map via mapsland website)

Long a trio of provinces of the Ottoman Empire, this territory was put under the UK’s control after World War One as the British Mandate For Mesopotamia. In 1921, this became the client Kingdom of Iraq, with King Faisal I of the Hashemite House on the throne. Iraq became fully independent in 1932, and King Ghazi assumed the throne the following year. He passed away in 1939 just as WWII was beginning, and was succeeded by Abd al-Ilah, regent for the underage heir Prince Faisal II.

enfield

(The Iraqi army’s first standard longarm was the SMLE No.1 Mk.III, a British rifle which fought both world wars. Iraq bought them directly from Birmingham Small Arms. The BSA maker’s mark is seen above, as is the Iraqi jeem property marking. During the late 1930s these were augmented by another 15,000 – 20,000 used ex-British army SMLEs. These were bought from Czechoslovakia who had bartered vz.24s to Latvia with the express intent of reselling the Enfields.)

cv33iraq

(Iraq bought sixteen CV-35 tankettes from Italy during the 1930s. Inbetween the world wars, tankettes were a fad predicted to play a huge role in future conflicts. WWII showed them to be a flawed concept. This one was found derelict by the US Army in 2003. It was repainted in spurious markings of the 263rd Direct Support Unit. The sign is humor; “Not Mission Capable – Supply” is modern US Army verbiage of a tank unfit for battle due to parts being temporarily unavailable.)

prifles

(The P-14, another British rifle of both world wars, served in Iraq’s early army. A few of these old guns were captured by American troops in 2003.)

m1898

(The Gew. 98 was a standard rifle of the Kaiser’s army during World War One, and forerunner of the 98k of WWII. During the 1920s there was a surge of Gew. 98s smuggled into Iraq where they caused problems for the British; alongside M-1903 Turkish Mausers. Later both types saw limited official usage and wider private ownership in Iraq. This Gew. 98 was captured by the US Marine Corps after the 2003 invasion.)

British dominance in Iraq’s affairs was unpopular and in April 1941, a coup deposed the regent with the intent of aligning Iraq with the Axis. Germany provided limited aid; however the number (if any) of 98ks directly supplied to Iraq by the Third Reich would be tiny, due to the distance from Europe.

Heinkel-He-111H-Iraqi-Coup-exKG4-01

(A Heinkel He-111 bomber donated by the Luftwaffe to the Iraqi air force after the coup. These flew from occupied Greece to Vichy French-held Syria and then onto Iraq.)

Predictably, the UK invaded Iraq and quashed the coup, putting the regent back in charge under British authority. After WWII ended in 1945, the British continued the occupation for another two years and then pressed a treaty allowing British bases in Iraq through the end of 1954.

1955

(RAF Habbaniya was a WWII British airbase 54 miles west of Baghdad and 22 miles north of Fallujah. In May 1955 title of the base transferred to Iraq; here Iraqi MPs are changing the sign. The last Royal Air Force units did not actually leave until 1959. During the 1980s Iran-Iraq War, Habbaniya was a dispersal airstrip for MiG-21 “Fishbed”s based at Tammuz and was bombed by Iranian F-4 Phantom IIs. As of 2022 it is a training facility for the Iraqi military.)

After completing his education in England and coming of age, Faisal II assumed the throne directly in 1953.

king1953

(Faisal II, the last king of Iraq.)

crest

(Crest of the Hashemite House, here on a M-48BO; the post-WWII Yugoslav variant of the 98k.)

In the interim between the end of the occupation in 1947 and Faisal II’s coronation, the Iraqi army was equipped overwhelmingly with WWII British kit.

iraqiarmy1955

(Iraqi soldiers of the 1950s with WWII British SMLEs.)

Iraqi_army_in_jeneen_palestine_1948

(During the 1948 Israeli war of independence, Iraq sent an expeditionary force there to fight alongside other Arab armies. This Iraqi armored car is a WWII British Humber Mk.II.)

fais2

(King Faisal II with his army bodyguard and a Boys Mk.I at the Tel-al-Milih Gun Club near Baghdad in 1957. The Boys fired a 0.55″ armor-piercing round with a 741gr tungsten penetrator. Great Britain intended this rifle to be used against light tanks, but increases in armor during WWII made it obsolete. After WWII Great Britain doled them off to client armies, including Iraq.) (photo via Guns magazine)

American military aid was small. President Eisenhower demanded a policy limiting American arms exports into the middle east to insignificant quantities. Later American presidents did not feel quite so restricted when it came to arms sales for the Persian Gulf area. None the less, Iraq operated little American weaponry prior to 2003.

FordFGTIraqiarmytowingQF25lbIn1957

(An Iraqi military exercise in 1957. The WWII gear is Ford GT artillery tractors (American) and QF 25-Pounder howitzers (British). Horse cavalry was still in use.) (photo via Life magazine)

m1919

(Another American WWII item transferred was M1919 machine guns. This one was recovered by American troops after the 2003 invasion.)

In July 1958, King Faisal II was overthrown and executed. Iraq became a republic, with an unstable government until another coup in 1968.

1958coup

(Fighting during the 1958 coup. The SMLE rifle and Bren machine guns are WWII British; the M1A1 Thompson submachine gun is WWII American. The American-made M20 bazooka is a Korean War-era system.)

After 1968 Iraq was ruled exclusively by the Ba’ath party. Saddam Hussein consolidated power within the Ba’ath party during the 1970s and from 1979 onwards ruled alone. The rest of Iraq’s history to the present time is presumably already familiar to most readers.

1980sm48

(Saddam Hussein during the 1980s with a M-48BO, a Yugoslav 98k variant described later below.)

the jeem

jeem

This Iraqi military property marking is the arabic letter jeem ( ج ) in a triangle. It produces the sound of the g in gemstone in English. It is the first letter in Jaish al-Irak (Iraqi army) and in stylized form, is thought to loosely resemble the nation’s shape.

medal

(The medal awarded to soldiers involved in the overthrow of the monarchy during 1958.)

The jeem was stamped onto 98k and other Mauser rifles. As a rule, it is always on the receiver and usually on the barrel as well. Occasionally it is also on the bolt, furniture, or sling.

german

(Jeem on both the barrel and receiver of a 98k manufactured by Brünn AG (Brno in occupied Czechoslovakia) during 1945. It retains the reichsadler (eagle holding swastika) mark on the barrel and small winged waffenamt, or WWII acceptance mark, on the receiver.)

m48boj

(Jeem on a M-48, the postwar Yugoslav version of the 98k.)

Usage of the jeem is not restricted to Mauser-type weapons nor to WWII-vintage weapons in general.

AKM

(Jeem on a modern 1973-made AKM assault rifle. The arrow is a makers mark from Izhevsk in Russia.)

The Iraqi air force used a calligraphy of the jeem as its insignia from 1931 – 2003 and then again from 2019 onwards.

RC208in2019scramble

(RC-208 multi-role aircraft in 2019.) (photo via Scramble magazine)

no1mk3iraqf

(Calligraphy-style jeem on an Enfield No.1 Mk.III; presumably this WWII rifle had been an Iraqi air force ground security weapon.)

The jeem is the easiest way of identifying a 98k as having been in Iraqi military service.

the Mauser rifle

“Mauser” means different things to different people in the firearms community. Strictly it is any weapon of any era made by the Mauser company in Germany. It might refer just to bolt-action rifles of a certain operating style made anywhere, including the 98k but not limited to that gun. Within that range, it can refer to these rifles using the 7.92x57mm cartridge, aka 7.92 Mauser.

For the case of Iraq, the latter definition works best.

k98az

(A 1st Sergeant of the US Army’s 25th Infantry Division in Albu Said, Iraq during 2007. The captured rifle is a k98AZ carbine. This was a forerunner of the 98k; shorter than a Gew. 98 but longer than a 98k. It retained the bayonet boss and stacking hook usually omitted from cut-downs during World War One. These were made during that war in Germany and by Radom in Poland between the world wars.) (official US Air Force photo)

the 98k

This was Germany’s standard-issue rifle of WWII from start to finish, with millions (14 million the high estimate) made before and during WWII. The 98k (karabiner, or carbine in English) entered service in 1935 and was a refined and shorter descendant of the Gew. 98 long rifle of the Kaiser’s army. It incorporated traits of both that weapon and the Mauser Standardmodell short rifle.

ww2

(Waffen-SS soldier with 98k during WWII.) (US National Archives photo)

Isis Weapons

(98k used by ISIS fighters in northern Iraq during 2017.) (photo via NBC News)

The bolt-action 98k was 3’7″ long and weighed 9 lbs. It fired the 7.92x57mm cartridge (2,493fps muzzle velocity) from a stripper-loaded 5-round internal magazine. It accepted the S84/98 bayonet. This was a great military rifle at the end of the bolt-action era. It was accurate, rugged, and affordable. Adjusted for conversion from Reichsmark and inflation, each cost only $313 in 2022 American dollars.

sslfirearmsEastBloc98k

(A jeem-marked 98k manufactured at Borsigwalde-Werke near Berlin in 1941.) (photo via SSL Firearms)

mg42and98k

(US Army soldiers with a captured 98k after the 2003 invasion. The machine gun is a MG3, the post-WWII version of the MG-42 chambered in 7.62 NATO. The MG3 was used by Iran during the 1980 – 1988 war and Iraq probably captured it then.)

Yugoslavia’s M-48 series

BOgunboardsCom

(M-48BO of the Iraqi army.) (photo via gunboards online forum)

These were post-WWII production rifles in Yugoslavia. The nomenclature of this series is somewhat confusing to newcomers.

M-48: These were manufactured by Zastava between 1949 – 1952. They were all-machined. They were marked with the Yugoslav crest. They did not share 100% parts commonality with WWII-made German 98ks.

Confusingly, actual surrendered ex-German 98ks were initially also briefly designated M-48 even though they did not share parts commonality. These were redesignated M-98/48. Some ended up in Iraq as well. These have German markings buffed out and replaced by Yugoslav ones, and sometimes stamped steel replacement parts. M-98/48s seen in Iraq have serial numbers prefixed with a W.

M-48A: The M-48A followed the end of M-48 production in 1952. Compared to that variant, the M-48A had some components of stamped steel as opposed to being machined.

m48airaqi

In 1956, production line changes substituted a larger number of stamped steel components and cheaper furniture. Other changes included omitting the embrasure carved out for the bolt handle (which had a muted turndown angle), with the handle simply being flat on the back. There were other changes, all intended to make the gun cheaper and faster to build. None the less, Zastava made them with high quality levels.

These post-1956 guns are called “M-48B“s but externally they remained marked M-48A. During 1956 the JNA (Yugoslav Federal Army) indicated it wanted no more, and from then on production was for export only. Production ended in 1965.

M-48BO: These ran concurrent with M-48Bs and are identical; the only difference being their backstory. BO denotes “bez oznaki” (without markings, in Serbian). They were sold either “sterile” (completely unmarked) or marked after production at the customer’s option.

BOgunboards

(A “sterile” Iraqi M-48BO. The only markings are the jeem on the lower left edge of the receiver and the serial number on the bolt handle.) (photo via gunboards online forum)

The BO project started in 1956 with an Egyptian order for unmarked rifles. With the start of the Suez Crisis in July 1956, Yugoslavia opted against filling the Egyptian order at that time. The rifles-for-export concept was sound however and continued. Known recipient armies were Myanmar, Syria, Indonesia, Iraq, and a later-filled Egyptian order.

1989b

(An old Federal Ordnance advertisement from 1989 illustrating the Hashemite House crest and Yugoslavian insignia on M-48BO and M-48B. The rifles themselves were identical.)

M-48BOs were serial numbered with either a letter hinting at their intended recipient (most Syrian M-48BOs start with “S” for example), or, a generic “V”. A theory is that this simply meant “vojska” (military in Serbian) and was done for lots built on speculation of a future sale. Iraqi M-48BOs are “V”-prefixed.

serial

The 98k and M-48 series do not share full spare parts commonality and actually, from the M-48A onwards the majority of parts are not interchangeable. There are some ways to differentiate the two. As mentioned above, M-48Bs and M-48BOs lack the embrasure carved into the wood and instead have a flattened bolt handle.

98kbolt

(Bolt handles on a WWII German 98k vs a postwar Yugoslav M-48BO.)

On a M-48BO, furniture meets the forward end of the receiver whereas on a 98k, the top of the barrel is exposed to the rear sight. The bolt movement on a M-48BO is shorter than a 98k.

m48boCap

(These guns were secured by the 304th Military Police Battalion near Kirkuk in 2003. With the AKMs is a WWII British SMLE and a M-48BO. The M-48BO has a non-standard forward sling loop and may have originally been assigned to a cavalry or dromedary unit; both of which Iraq used until the end of the 1950s.) (official US Air Force photo)

the vz.24

Vz24

(photo by Szuyuan Huang)

The vz.24 was a Czechoslovak “cousin” of the 98k. Production began in 1924. Compared to a 98k, there are a few differences. The most apparent is the straight bolt handle. Major characteristics between the two guns are the same.

vz24MMRW

(This “three line Czech” was a 1927 production vz.24 by Brno. As seen by the jeem, it ended up in Iraq many years later.) (photo from Mauser Military Rifles of the World book)

After Germany dismembered Czechoslovakia in 1938, existing vz.24s were absorbed into the Wehrmacht under the designation G24(t). Because it was so similar to a 98k anyways, G24(t) production continued until 1942 – 1943 when the tooling was tweaked to make true 98ks. WWII production was not insignificant; more than a quarter-million G24(t)s were made plus those absorbed from the prewar Czechoslovak army.

The USSR captured many G24(t)s during WWII. Curiously, despite being functionally identical to a 98k, the Soviets kept them segregated and returned some to Czechoslovakia after WWII.

Iraq got vz.24s from two totally disparate sources. Some came from Europe via east bloc aid, as described further below.

exIranianvz24

(Jeem marking on an ex-Iranian vz.24.)

The other route was Iran. During 1929 the Persian army made a buy of Brno-manufactured vz.24s. This order was followed by the better-known M-1310 long rifle (aka Persian Mauser) and the more numerous M-1317 Kootah carbine. None the less, enough vz.24s were still lingering in Iranian inventory when the 1980s war started that Iraq captured some.

ammunition

As far as is known, Iraq never manufactured 7.92x57mm Mauser. Before 1939 this was one of the four dominant military rifle calibers worldwide, and into the 1960s huge quantities remained. There was also post-WWII production on several continents.

Iraq got this caliber from all over the map: Czechoslovakia, private arms dealers, East Germany, Egypt, Turkey, Romania, Yugoslavia, and so on.

Starting in the early 1970s the al-Yarmouk company in Iraq manufactured combloc calibers. By that time the battlefield relevance of WWII-era bolt-action rifles had faded. The Iraqis probably felt their existing 7.92 Mauser stockpile sufficient for the 98ks by then in reserve or second-line use.

sources and timeline

I. Yugoslavia and Iraq

These two nations had a partnership spanning decades, starting in the early 1950s and ending abruptly in 1990.

ibnkhaldum

(When the Iran-Iraq War began in 1980, Iraq’s largest warship was the Yugoslav-made frigate Ibn Khaldoum. Powered by British-made turbines, the Yugoslavs mixed western and Soviet technology aboard this frigate. Ibn Khaldoum was damaged during Desert Storm in 1991 and left to rot afterwards.)

Ibn Khaldoum was a very visible thing but most Yugoslav assistance was less flashy. Yugoslav architects built hardened bunkers (nicknamed “Yugos” by the US Air Force) and repaved WWII runways to handle modern jets. Yugoslav advisers modernized the Iraqi military’s telecommunications, designed Iraq’s Tabuk rifle, and so on. Yugoslavia was beneficial to Iraq as it was friendly with both the east and west blocs, and as such was familiar with both technology trees. Yugoslav technicians kept Iraqi weapons functioning without the blessing of the original nation they had been made in. Yugoimport-SDPR (the arms exporting entity) viewed itself as a partner to Zastava and the Yugoslav surplus board; not a policing authority over them.

smg

(An Iraqi M-48BO captured after the 2003 conflict. The submachine gun is a Sterling, a Cold War-era British weapon. Also of newer design is the ex-Iranian G3, the green rifle.)

Sales of the M-48BO started while Faisal II was still king. The timeframe in which Iraq’s order was placed is a small window: the M-48BO project did not start until the spring of 1956 and Faisal II was dead by the early summer of 1958; so it was in that span. As mentioned above; some or even many may have already physically existed having been built on speculation.

pre58

(Iraqi M-48BO with the Hashemite House’s crest. These had already been delivered or were at least in the pipeline when the king was slain in 1958.)

m48BOmark

(A later delivery, after the summer of 1958, with a “sterile” receiver.)

Iraq’s 1950s decision to acquire these rifles had several reasons. Even though the Mauser platform was not cutting-edge anymore in the 1950s, compared to what Iraq’s neighbors and Israel were then using; it wasn’t far behind. M-48BOs were built to high quality and the Yugoslavs were not charging much for them.

Another reason was a political trend in developing nations after WWII, to “multi-track” weapons procurement. That is to say, to avoid having the nation’s military wholly dependent on one single foreign benefactor’s ammunition, parts, and training. Introducing a 7.92 Mauser rifle from the Balkans perhaps was a subtle signal from Baghdad to London that the UK no longer had full sway over the Iraqi army.

Iraqi-M48BoGunb

(Iraqi M-48BO rifle.) (photo via gunboards online forum)

The M-48BOs of the mid-1950s were not the only ex-Yugoslav Mausers Iraq imported. As the 1950s turned to the 1960s and then the 1970s; the JNA in Yugoslavia constantly modernized. WWII-era kit was pushed into reserves and then onto the disposal list. Iraq later imported M-48As (which remained Yugoslav-marked) and even a few of that nation’s refurbished ex-German 98ks.

jeemonm48

(“Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia” property marking in cyrillic, and the Iraqi jeem property marking.)

II. Iraq, the USSR, the Warsaw Pact, and the “proxy system”

During WWII the Soviet Union captured large numbers of German 98k rifles. Warehoused after WWII, these were later distributed worldwide, either directly or via “proxy” by Warsaw Pact members.

In the 98k’s history, “Soviet Capture X’s” are a whole chapter. After WWII the USSR inventoried and inspected ex-German 98ks. Each rifle was broken down into its parts; which were then thrown into separate piles.

Employees went pile-to-pile, picking a piece from each, until they had a full 98k. As such, almost all are mismatches (a firearms term meaning the serial number on the receiver differs from the serial on the bolt, buttplate, etc) as each part came from a different rifle. Many are “force matches”; here; the Soviet arsenal took the serial off the biggest or best-condition piece; obliterated the others, and then stenciled that piece’s serial number onto the other parts. In the Soviet system this “zeroed” the rifle’s history and any later parts replacements would be noted only against this new serial number, as if it were factory-new.

examplerussiancapture

(A Soviet force matched 98k. This receiver was originally in a 98k made at the Mauser factory in Oberndorf in 1937. Its serial number has been stenciled onto the bolt off another 98k. The X marking is explained below.)

The USSR’s “X” marking signified captured weapons acceptable for Soviet reissue. The marking (depending on the source quoted) was actually supposed to be a pair of crossed sabres or crossed rifles with exaggerated stock shapes. Early in the process the lower part of the die tended to break yielding a X, so often that later the dies were changed to be just a X to avoid confusion.

bcd42

(X on a Soviet captured 98k made by Gustluff Werke in 1942. Other markings are the serial, the WWII waffenamt, and the Iraqi jeem.) (photo via gunboards online forum)

kar98aGunboards

(X marking on a Kar. 98A made by Erfurt Werke during the First World War; which many decades later ended up in the Iraqi army. The Kar. 98A was not the same as a 98k; it was simply the early-1900s carbine counterpart to the Gew. 98 long rifle. Dual-date Mausers are often misunderstood. This gun was not rebuilt or sold in 1920. The Treaty Of Versailles limited the Weimar Republic’s army to 100,000 men. The “1920 Blue Book” had a list of firearm serial numbers to arm them. Weimar Germany was subject to inspection of armories; any serial number not in the book would be a breach of the treaty. Rifles thus recorded were stamped “1920”. After Adolf Hitler nullified the treaty, many later saw battle during WWII.)

Cleaning rods and slings are usually missing off “capture X” 98ks. Unserviceable German furniture was replaced; either in parts or the whole stock, with whatever type of wood. Sometimes but not always, the Soviets gave them a fresh coat of varnish which tends to be of a richer hue than the WWII German finish.

bmxSteyrRusCaprestock

(A Soviet “capture X” 98k centered around a receiver made by Steyr during WWII. As is typical the cleaning rod is missing, as is the protector of the front sight. The upper piece of wood is different lumber than the rest of the stock.)

Direct Soviet military sales to Iraq, 98ks and otherwise, did not begin right after WWII. King Faisal II’s capital was host of the February 1955 Baghdad Pact conference which birthed CENTO, an alliance of the UK, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Pakistan. CENTO was a flop. Iraq was ironically the first member to withdraw, quitting in 1959.

A few months prior to that, the first Soviet-Iraqi arms deals were signed in late 1958. It is possible that a tranche of 98ks were sent, but that was not the focus. Instead this first deal centered on things the Iraqis could otherwise not afford, or were not offered on the world stage, such as jet bombers.

In June 1964 another military aid deal was signed with the Soviets. The USA had a total arms embargo on Iraq from 1967 to 1982, and a limited one thereafter, eliminating America as a source.

Curiously the 98k’s foe on the Ostfront during WWII, the Mosin-Nagant rifle, never factored much into Soviet aid to Iraq. By the time Soviet arms sales swung into high gear during the 1960s, SKSs and AK-47s were sent. It is entirely possible that the Soviets sent about as many “capture X” 98ks to Iraq as Mosin-Nagants.

sks

The above postage stamp shows an Iraqi soldier already with what looks to be a SKS, but still wearing a WWII British Mk.II Tommy helmet. The vehicular system is a BM-13N which was a late-WWII follow-on to the famous Katyusha. It fired 132mm unguided rockets. The USSR provided Iraq with old BM-13Ns during the 1960s, pending Cold War-era BM-21s which came in the 1970s. As BM-21 losses mounted during the war against Iran, some BM-13Ns were pulled from storage and saw combat during the 1980s. By then Kalishnikov-platform rifles had replaced the SKS and WWII-era guns in Iraqi service.

In 1972 Iraq agreed to a huge omnibus arms deal with Moscow. It centered on very high-end things: supersonic fighter planes, ballistic missiles, long-range radars, etc. Rifles were not a core thing and certainly not WWII-surplus ones.

the proxy system

More than directly from the USSR, Iraq obtained 98ks via the “proxy system”.

Simply explained, the proxy system worked like this: When a foreign government requested military aid from the USSR not of an advanced nature, the Soviets did not supply it. Instead, one of the six Warsaw Pact satellite allies supplied it, and were in turn compensated by the USSR with better equipment. For example if a country – say, Iraq – requested a dozen tanks and a thousand rifles from Moscow; an ally – say, Czechoslovakia – shipped twelve WWII-vintage T-34s and a thousand 98ks. In turn, the USSR sent Czechoslovakia a dozen T-54/55s and a thousand AK-47s.

This flushed obsolete kit out of the Warsaw Pact in a way that still made the Kremlin look good to the end recipient. As the sale was ledgered internationally under the shipping country, the Soviets also hoped that it might “bestow legitimacy” on the eastern European countries, in that it might falsely appear that they were negotiating their own arms deals.

Deals were more complex in structure than the above example, but that was the general set-up.

The Warsaw Pact itself had an internal version of this. Early in the alliance’s history the six non-USSR members were not of equal capability; with Poland and Czechoslovakia being more advanced than Hungary and all three more than Romania, Bulgaria, or East Germany. During the 1950s and 1960s more advanced members served their lesser brethren this way; in particular Czechoslovakia to East Germany.

The 98k story in Iraq is directly intertwined with this. In the aftermath of WWII, the Soviets tasked Czechoslovakia (in particular the Sellier & Bellot company) with reboxing captured German ammunition. Czechoslovakia itself continued to manufacture 7.92 Mauser as well. As far as rifles, Germany had made the 98k at Brno (which it called Brünn AG) into 1945 and when the war ended in May 1945, a large number of 98ks were surrendered on Czechoslovak territory.

vz98N

(The G24(t) production lines in occupied Czechoslovakia had been retooled to make 98ks midway through WWII as explained earlier. The jigs and tooling were surrendered fully intact in 1945 and Czechoslovakia continued 98k production as the vz.98N, the N being Nemecko (Germany in Czech). This vz.98N was later sold to Iraq.)

Early vz.98N production sometimes used entire subassemblies made during WWII, sometimes even German-proofmarked already. This results in a mixture of markings; some WWII some postwar, gradually changing to all-Czechoslovak.

postwarBrno98kProxibidAuc

(A 98k, or vz.98N, with the Czechoslovak lion and Iraqi jeem markings. This was from a direct contract for Iraq.) (photo via Proxibid Auctions)

As WWII-made parts ran out, Brno settled in on a solid beechwood stock of the “kriegsmodell” (late WWII German style), with certain stamped steel parts substituted for machined components. Cleaning rods were omitted to save money and many are not even tapped for a rod.

Czechoslovakia directly exported these guns, along with leftover WWII 98ks and even WWII-captured vz.24s returned by the USSR, to Iraq. They did this both by direct contract and by the proxy system.

They also did the latter to fellow Warsaw Pact ally East Germany.

East Germany regained sovereignty in 1949. Between then and formal rearmament in 1956, the Soviets created the Kasernierte Volkspolizei “police” which was an army in all but name. It was equipped with WWII Soviet weapons and Soviet-captured German WWII weapons including 98ks. Some came from the USSR, others via the proxy system from Czechoslovakia. The Volksarmee, the regular army after 1956, inherited these.

tgf

(This is a rare Iraqi 98k. The “50 tgf’s” were manufactured in Czechoslovakia during 1950 on contract for the DDR Grenztruppen; the East German border patrol later notorious for manning the Berlin Wall. These were among the last 98ks made worldwide. The only known post-East German users are Ethiopia and Iraq.)

By the end of the 1950s SKSs were in East German use and Kalishnikov-platform weapons entered the Volksarmee in the 1960s. This left a significant number of East German 98ks looking for a home.

A driving force of East Germany’s obsolete weapons transfers to Iraq was General Heinz Hoffmann, who also engineered a similar arrangement with Syria. It is believed that East German transfers to Iraq began in either 1964 or 1967, and ran until 1988.

eastgermankriegsmarineGunboards

(This 98k was manufactured by Steyr-Daimler-Puch in 1941. It was a Soviet capture then passed on to East Germany, then Iraq.)

eastgermanGunboards

(East German firearms have a “sunburst” marking.) (photo via gunboards online forum)

Compared to East German sales of StG-44s, MP-40s, and 98ks to Syria; much less is known about the transfers of WWII weaponry to Iraq. There is no apparent reason why. One possibility is that inbetween the fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989 and German reunification on 3 October 1990, a lot of records were shredded; particularly things which might expose then-East Germans to criminal charges post-reunification. By 1989 Saddam Hussein was already vilified in western Europe and reunification happened two months after Iraq occupied Kuwait in 1990.

Iraq2003

(A StG-44 captured by the US Army in 2003. East Germany seems like its most natural route of entry into Iraq, although Czechoslovakia or Yugoslavia are also possibilities. Far fewer Sturmgewehrs are in Iraq than next door in Syria.)

ddrSteyr41

(A very interesting 98k: It was manufactured by Steyr-Daimler-Puch in 1941 for WWII German use. It was a Soviet capture, as seen by the X. It was proofed in postwar Czechoslovakia, then passed to East Germany as evidenced by the sunburst. It was refurbished in East Germany with a new barrel (force matched to the receiver’s serial) manufactured by VEB Thälmann (the 1001 code) and re-proofed with the “crowned-N” DDR Nitro-prüfmark. The “MdI” on the new barrel is the Interior Ministry, which controlled the Zivilverteidigung DDR (East Germany’s civil defense organization), the railroad police, and other paramilitary heirs of 98ks leaving the East German army. Finally it ended up in Iraq as seen by the jeems.) (photo from Mauser Military Rifles of the World book)

The East German role may never fully be known. Presumably any records that still remained in Germany after 1990 and Iraq after 2003 would have been found by now. Gen. Hoffmann passed away in 1985. Saddam Hussein was executed in 2006.

IV. private arms dealers

Iraq made use of private dealers of WWII-era weapons, as did many middle east nations from the 1950s through 1980s. Invariably some 98ks came from this route.

portuguesegunboards

(photo via gunboards online forum)

The rifle above is a Portuguese 98k, or in that nation’s nomenclature, the m/937, manufactured in Germany during WWII. It is marked with the Iraqi jeem. How this rifle ended up in Iraq beggars a guess; a private arms dealer is one of the few reasonable answers. The only other option is a 10,000-gun Portuguese lot divrted to the Wehrmacht during WWII but as there is no Soviet “X” that seems unlikely. Portugal obsoleted the m/937 in the early 1970s. Interarms, the weapons-dealing juggernaut of Sam Cummings, was said to have bought and resold some. Zeughaus Hege in West Germany bought some in 1978 and tried to peddle them as the “Orion” during the 1980s.

Iraqi arms procurement: as clear as a pail of mud

One reason it is challenging to piece together the 98k story is that under Saddam Hussein, there were many Iraqi entities authorized to purchase military weapons. The Defense Ministry (the Iraqi army, air force, and navy) naturally got whatever it wanted; and each of the three armed forces also had a limited reign to buy themselves rifles.

wz35polish

(On the rack, fourth down, is a 98k. Other WWII guns interspersed with modern weapons are a PPSh-41 (Soviet), a P-14 (British), and a M1919A4 (American). The thing leaned up against the rack is a modern SA-7 “Grail” surface-to-air missile. The gun with the humongous 4′ barrel being held by the American soldier is a wz.35; a very rare WWII Polish anti-material rifle. It is not always easy to imagine how, when, or why Iraq bought certain weapons.)

Outside of the military stream the General Intelligence Directorate could procure small arms abroad. Likewise the Border Guard, under the Interior Ministry’s portfolio. The Ba’ath political party itself also had this authority. During the 1980 – 1988 war against Iran the Ba’ath party controlled the large but poorly-trained Iraqi Popular Army, a second-tier militia armed with second-rate guns. The Iraq General Security Directorate, sort of a national police, could buy military-grade rifles abroad. Finally certain parastatals like the Basra Port Authority or the INOC oil company could buy their own small arms. It was often still less clear-cut than that. Sometimes “shell companies” bought small lots of 98ks for the Iraqi military or government agencies.

Mauser-type rifles sometimes changed guardianship. For example in the mid-1990s, the newly-created Fedayeen Saddam militia (a praetorian guard led by his son Uday Hussein) received guns transferred from the Defense and Security ministries.

Procurement was non-linear. When the regular army had already moved onto AKMs and was opening quote requests for them worldwide, agencies like the Border Patrol were at the same time still sourcing new 98ks to round out their holdings while other still other Iraqi entities were putting theirs into storage. The quantity of held weaponry was one way various ministries in Saddam-era Iraq “exhibited influence” vis-a-vis each other, and this led to wholescale hoarding of weaponry, obsolete and otherwise. This 1970s and 1980s mass hoarding would cause problems for the Americans after 2003.

Iraq had a lot of rifles, ranging from WWII to 1980s construction, and a lot of people needing them. The regular Iraqi army had around 710,000 men in uniform. The Iraqi Popular Army had between 140,000 – 300,000. Another 4,800 were in the militarized border patrol and there were up to 10,000 mercenaries recruited from sunni arab nations.

ribbon

(The ribbon awarded to Iraqi soldiers who fought in the occupation of Kuwait and Desert Storm. Today Iraqis generally call it “the 1411 war”, 1990 AD on the islamic calendar.)

On 2 August 1990 Iraq invaded Kuwait. Four days later the country was put under a worldwide arms embargo which was to last another 13 years. That was the end of Iraq’s rifle purchases abroad, be it 98ks or newer.

98ks during the 2003 – 2011 conflict

On 19 March 2003 the United States opened hostilities against Iraq. By then the 98k and other WWII-era rifles were long out of regular Iraqi army service. The 1988 edition of Small Arms Today does not list 98ks even in Iraqi reserve then. During Desert Storm in 1991, 98ks / M-48BOs were only infrequently found and only after coalition forces had advanced past Kuwait into Iraq and overrun arms warehouses.

None the less, the United States discovered there were still a lot of Mausers in Iraq in the early 21st century.

truckload

(An entire dump truck load of captured M-48BOs and 98ks.)

One infamous appearance of a Mauser during the early stages of the 2003 war happened on 24 March when US Army units were engaging the 2nd “al-Medina” Republican Guard Division west of Karbala.

Thirty-one AH-64 Apaches of the 11th Aviation Group, 3rd Infantry Division approached from the south to attack the “al-Medina”. During their flight, US Army intelligence detected fifty calls from the area being dialed on Iraq’s civilian cellular telephone system. As the helicopters flew overhead, the Iraqis opened up with a barrage of small-arms fire. One AH-64 was hit so many times that it had to land. The two US Army aviators were taken POW.

ah64

Iraqi state TV in Baghdad broadcast the above, and announced that an Apache had been shot down single-handedly with “a Brno rifle”.

The derelict Apache was destroyed by an airstrike before Iraqi intelligence could examine it. The two POWs were freed several weeks later. The US Army then pieced together what had happened.

The AH-64 had been shot down by the combination of a camouflaged ZU-23-2 anti-aircraft gun, along with at least one NSV Utyos 12.7mm heavy machine gun and the fusillade of Kalishnikovs. The old man holding the Mauser, credited by Iraqi TV with the shootdown, was identified and arrested. He was a farmer and claimed that he had not even fired at the Apache, but only grabbed his rifle to investigate the commotion and then joined in the cheering. He was released. The exact model of 98k is not known; the footage is too brief and grainy to identify it further.

The catalyst for many of the later occupation phase’s problems was how the initial assault phase ended. Unlike WWII in 1945, there never was an official ceremony and no clear-cut end. Baghdad was overrun on 9 April 2003. Instead of an armistice or surrender, the Iraqi command structure just imploded. Saddam Hussein fled into hiding and some leaderless units around Iraq continued regular combat operations for another half-month. Meanwhile other units took off their uniforms and abandoned their posts.

Before 2003, Iraq (size of California or Sweden) had 136 major weapons and ammunition storage depots, and at least that many again over of moderate or small size.

depot

(In this pilfered depot remains a M-48BO in the front, then two straight-handle rifles which may be vz.24s, and more M-48BOs or 98ks.)

Various sectarian militias, fanatical Ba’athists still loyal to Saddam, and criminals took advantage of their unguarded state and cleaned out the depots before the United States could secure them.

As the insurgency picked up, WWII weapons were the least of the USA’s problems. AK-platform firearms were the most apparent danger along with RPG-7s. Certain ammunition – howitzer shells, tank gun rounds, mortar bombs – were no longer battlefield-relevant but amenable to being crafted into roadside IEDs by insurgents. These were the things which were of highest priority to secure.

silahreort

(This unusual Iraqi creation started as either a 98k or an Iranian M-1317 Kootah. It is fitted with (presumably) a new extended barrel; which has a pipe-type suppressor similar to one seen on a captured black-market M16A1. The scope is a Cold War-era Soviet PSO-1 (4×24) normally seen on SVD-63 sniper rifles. It was found in 2006 near Zaidon, Iraq wrapped in a cloth and shallowly buried.) (photo via Silah Report)

exocet

(On the other end of the spectrum, this 2004 photo at Camp Paladin in Iraq shows a AM.39 Exocet anti-ship missile. These had been a scourge of merchant sailors in the Persian Gulf during the 1980s.) (official US Defense Department photo)

Coalition authorities identified certain Iraqi firearms: AK-platform rifles, Tariq handguns, and RPG-7s; which if in good condition and standard configuration should be retained for later reissue to Iraq. Anything else would be destroyed. WWII weapons as a rule were to be carte-blanche destroyed. The first step was assembling them at a forward operating base. Depending on what they were, and how many, they were either destroyed on the spot or moved to a CAHA (captured ammunition handling area) for later destruction.

fire

(US Marines destroyed firearms at al-Kut Armory on the spot as they advanced into Iraq during 2003. They are dressed in MOPP Level 2 as the United States was concerned of Iraqi chemical weapons. The gun about to be thrown in is a Tabuk, Iraq’s AKM clone. Some Iraqi 98ks met a fate like this, half a century after WWII.) (official US Marine Corps photo)

1895

(An example CAHA in Iraq. With the police shotguns and menagerie of AK variants is a Steyr-Mannlicher M-1895 long rifle and a pair of M-48BOs missing their bolts.)

campdogwoodcahairaqmausersandcivguns

(The CAHA at Camp Dogwood between Fallujah and Karbala. This pile is mostly ex-Iranian M-1310 “Persian Mausers”. Despite their obsolescence even during the 1980s, Iraq kept captured M-1310s in storage past the turn of the millennium.)

ISIS

Sadly for Iraq, the departure of most American troops was followed by a new menace, ISIS. WWII-era weapons played a very small role in this conflict which spilled across the Iraqi-Syrian border. However some 98ks were present.

Kurdish98kZeiss2016

(A sniper of the Peshmerga, the autonomous Kurdish militia in northern Iraq, engaging ISIS in 2016. His 98k is fitted with a civilian Zeiss hunting scope.)

sniper

(The legendary Iraqi sniper Ali Jayad al-Salhi fell in battle against ISIS in 2017, aged 65. He attended a marksmanship course in the Soviet Union during the 1970s, then fought against Israel during the Yom Kippur War and then against Iran in the 1980s. Before he was issued better hardware, he fought against ISIS in the 2010s using a 98k with iron sights. Here his son Talib is holding the 98k.) (photo via VOA)

for the collector

supposed GI bring-backs

Congress ended the military’s trophy rifle program after the 1983 “Urgent Fury” operation in Grenada. There were no authorized trophy 98ks brought back from Iraq.

As a veteran myself it would be incredibly naive to think that a few GIs here and there did not figure out a way to sneak one in. It would be difficult. American troops were repeatedly warned that their baggage was subject to search ex-chopping theatre. Containerized freight coming back from Iraq was searched by both the military and US Customs. Depending on the inspector in Iraq, things like Iraqi helmets or bayonets were sometimes let through, sometimes not. Other inspectors confiscated harmless empty brass casings of rounds soldiers had fired from their own M4 or M16, as “contraband munitions”.

FedOrd jeem Mausers

Most ex-Iraqi 98ks on the collectors market today entered during the late 1980s via Federal Ordnance.

1989

(Federal Ordnance ad from 1989 with an Iraqi M-48BO.)

Federal Ordnance started out in the 1960s as a parts buyer for a sister company National Ordnance. They merged in 1975. The company was located on Potrero St. in South El Monte, CA.

The first major appearance of Iraqi Mausers in the USA civilian market was through FedOrd in 1988 and 1989. The company’s advertisements were often “cloak & dagger” over-dramatic and stressed that they would not divulge how these weapons (described as “Mausers Mod. 98”) came to America.

These rifles were part of a 1987 importation arranged by Armscorp USA, Inc. in Baltimore, MD. The counterparty was an unknown Israeli surplus dealer. Armscorp USA both imported some under its own ATF engraving and arranged for others, including Federal Ordnance, to bring rifles in under their ATF import engravings.

Iraq directly fought Israel three times. In 1948, Iraq did not have any 98ks. In 1967, small Iraqi subunits in Syria engaged Israeli forces but given the small forces present, any rifles the Israelis got intact would seemingly be proportionally few. In 1973, Iraqi forces were much larger: two entire divisions, about 30,000 men. They saw significant combat in the Golan Heights. However by then, Iraq had already moved up to the SKS and AK-platform rifles. Maybe some Mausers were still in frontline use, but it would be unlikely to be many.

So then, how the Israelis got these Iraqi guns is a bit vague. However this story seems to check out. Some Syrian M-48BOs FedOrd sold in the same time frame were delivered to buyers with Israeli slings.

FedOrd later branched out to offering jeem-stamped “Soviet capture X” 98ks and “sterile” Iraqi M-48BOs. Where these came from is not known. In 1992 Federal Ordnance changed its name to Briklee Trading. It went bankrupt in 2000 and the last CEO passed away in 2002, so these might remain a mystery.

Iraqi98k

(Jeem-marked 98k made by Steyr-Daimler-Puch during 1940.)

Iraqi Mausers have come by a few other routes. After German reunification, Lever Arms bought a batch of ex-East German 98ks, mostly “capture Xs”. Supposedly there were a few jeem-stamped examples mixed in; perhaps these had been marked for Iraq but never delivered. Interordnance, Sarco, and a few other companies have sold them either in whole or in parts kits.

Finally there was a batch sold out of Saddam Hussein-era Iraq itself. This was in a very tight window between August 1988, when the Iran-Iraq War ended, and August 1990 when the worldwide arms embargo took effect. Iraq urgently needed fiscal liquidity in this timeframe to service Saudi and Kuwaiti war loans. The focus was offloading WWII SMLEs but 98ks were also sold, including to an African arms dealer from where the 98ks later came in via Ethiopia through Royal Tiger.

*********************

(The current (2022) seal of the Iraqi Defense Ministry features a 98k.)

iraqiMOD

9 thoughts on “the 98k in Iraq

  1. Very useful and interesting. Thx. I’ve got a Soviet capture 98k on pretty good condition. A classic piece of history and firearms technology.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The only ones I know of that were saved were done by Rock Island Arsenal, they brought a 40′ container full of odds and ends like gold-plated AKMs, a c/96 broomhandle, etc back to the USA. A few units were allowed to take a trophy weapon for display on-base. One unit took a huge bust of Saddam Hussein. It is pretty sad that the CMP couldnt bring in the old Mausers and Enfields.

      Like

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