Saddam’s Sharpshooter: Al-Kadesiah Sniper Rifle
Perhaps one of the more elusive Dragunov clones in recent small arms history, the 7.62x54mmR Al-Kadesiah precision rifle is one of only two precision rifles that Saddam Hussein’s defense-armaments-industry Al-Kadesiah Establishments produced from the 1980s until 2003 (the other being the Tabuk Sniper). Named after the 637 A.D. Battle of al-Qadisiyyah, in which an advancing Islamic army fought against Persian Sasanian forces in what is now current-day southern Iraq. Iraq’s indigenous small arms took their names after famous battles, commanders or important landmarks. The Tabuk rifle is named after another important battle in the Islamic Conquest (630 A.D.). The Tariq handgun is named after the successful commander that led Muslim armies into Spain (Tariq Ibn Ziyad); the Al-Quds RPK is named for the historic Arabic word for Jerusalem; and the al-Nasirah RPG after a city in Palestine.
From the small sample size that we have been able to research with, there appears to have been two production runs of Al-Kadesiah rifles: an early initial batch that might have run from 1988 to 1991 and then another lot in 2003, just before the U.S. invasion of Iraq. We still don’t know how many in total were produced, but a ballpark estimate would be in the several thousand, perhaps not more than ten thousand rifles ever produced. What we know about the intent and use of the Al-Kadesiah is even less. Similar to many of Iraq’s indigenously produced small arms, it doesn’t appear that many of them ever saw combat or were even intended for combat use in the Iraqi Army, Republican Guard or paramilitary Fedayeen forces. Historical photographs, videos and interviews with pre-2003 Iraqi Army forces reveal that many soldiers could easily serve a term of service without seeing a Tabuk, Tariq or an Al-Kadesiah. A prime, statistics-based example of this is at the reserve collection of the Marine Corps Museum, which has several hundred captured Iraqi Army items spanning Desert Storm and post-2003, the overwhelming majority of which are not Iraqi-produced.
With the exception of the Tabuk rifles, Al-Quds RPK light machine guns and al-Nasirah RPG launchers, a critical component of these indigenously produced weapons appears to have been a gifting mechanism, both within Iraq as an award, promotion or to the family members of soldiers killed in battle, and to foreign governments overseas (Gaddafi of Libya and Mubarak of Egypt are two known examples). Indeed, some of these gold-plated Tariqs, Al-Kadesiahs and carbine Tabuks are inscribed in Arabic: “A Gift from President Saddam Hussein, President of the Republic of Iraq.” One rare example in the case of Tariq handguns reads: “The home country is the honor of the fighting soldier; A present from the President Saddam Hussein for those who defend the mother country” engraved along the slide. However, not all of these gold-plated small arms would have any particular phrase stamped into them; many are simply gold-plated without any additional markings.
What make the Al-Kadesiah distinguishable from a Soviet SVD Dragunov are enough features to make the majority of parts from either rifle not interchangeable. This is important because between the Soviet and Chinese Dragunov rifle variants and even the Romanian PSL rifle, users and logistics officers alike have assumed interchangeability when there was none to begin with, something that causes problems downrange. An example is PSL magazines because they can latch into place in an Al-Kadesiah magazine well, but without actual modification to the rifle or to the magazines, their tolerances are off just enough that the rounds will not feed when charged. This hasn’t stopped rifles already in theater being altered by rebels on the ground who are often forced to make due with limited supplies.
Outwardly and from afar, the two rifles are virtually indistinguishable, but upon a closer inspection, we find that the Al-Kadesiah is actually a poor clone of the Soviet SVD. Operationally, the two rifles are identical, both utilizing a long-stroke gas impingement system acting on a multi-lug rotating bolt; however, the Al-Kadesiah’s gas tube cannot be adjusted, and the bolt is akin to a Kalashnikov bolt with its two main locking lugs and one guide lug rotating in the same direction (a Dragunov’s bolt rotates opposite of a Kalashnikov’s due to the cut of the lug paths). All Al-Kadesiah rifles also have a red-capped plastic pistol grip. A very important distinction is in the receiver construction, the Al-Kadesiah is a three-part, stamped-steel receiver with a thickness of 1.5mm and pinned trunion, while the Dragunov is a single-milled receiver (trunion area included). Some key visible differences are in the Al-Kadesiah’s palm-tree-embossed magazine, four cooling slats in the handguard versus six in a Dragunov and rear sights without any Cyrillic markings on the Al-Kadesiah. Scopes used in the series are mainly Yugoslavian OM-M76 4x optics with special 7.62×54 marking on the turret, but also seen are some older Soviet PSO-1s, and many were issued with Romanian LPS Type 2 optics.
After a thorough study of available examples of Al-Kadesiah rifles in reference collections, open sources and on display in museums, there have been three basic variants that have come to light. We begin with the serial number lot numbers. All the available Al-Kadesiah rifles surveyed begin with the 50000XX serial number range. This is on par with other Al-Kadesiah products, such as 9x19mm Tariq handguns which all fall in a 313XXXXX range, Al-Quds RPKs in an early 300XXXX range, folding stock Al-Quds in the 400XXXX range and Tabuk rifles that can fall in a number of different serial number ranges.
The earliest variants we observed are gold-plated rifles from 1988. These rifles have not been observed to come equipped with scopes but appear to have scopes in their velvet carrying cases. They have also been seen separately, in plastic bags. They have a full and matching serial number stamped on the lower receiver, bolt carrier and receiver cover, a year stamp below the serial number and have the marking “AL.KADESIAH, 7.62×54, MADE.IN.IRAQ.” At least one of these rifles has been spotted with the gift inscription and a Tariq Ibn Zayid medallion pressed into the wooden handguard.
After this golden presentation variant comes a standard field-grade variant which appears to have been intended for troop issue. The rifle is identical to the first variant but is not gold-plated and has “KADESIH” instead of “SIAH.” Year samples are from 1991 and 1992. Some of these feature a shortened two-digit serial number on the receiver. Note that the serial numbers ascend from the earliest rifle in 1989, indicating a constant serial number block regardless of year.
Our next variant exists in 2003 and is a drill-purpose rifle. A hole has been drilled in the barrel underneath the handguards just forward of the chamber at the 3 o’clock position, underneath the handguards. This has resulted in at least one such rifle suffering a catastrophic malfunction when fired in Iraq. The usual marking on the right side of the receiver is no longer there, instead switched to the left side and now hand-etched with “للتدريب/lel-tadreeb” in Arabic, which means “Training,” in addition to a three-digit serial number and the year of manufacture. The same phrase is also imprinted on a metal medallion that is embedded in the right-hand side of the stock.
Of these three variants surveyed out of a total of 15 rifles spread between the United Kingdom and the United States, nine are gold-plated presentation rifles, four are field-grade rifles, and only two are drill purpose from 2003. These numbers fit with the attitude that the rifles were primarily a gift or ceremonial item as opposed to combat arms. As stated before, interviews and media research of Iraqi armed forces have revealed that the Al-Kadesiah did not appear to be in use at all by operating forces—not in the Iran–Iraq War, invasion of Kuwait, resulting Desert Storm and finally in the grand finale of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Magazine Capacity 10 rounds, proprietary Iraqi magazines
Overall Length 48.42in
Barrel Length 24.48in
Barrel Internals 4 grooves, 1:10 right-hand twist
Weight 9lb, 14oz, loaded with scope attached
Effective Range 1,300m
Iannamico, Frank, AK-47, The Grim Reaper, Chipotle Publishing, LLC
DesignatedMarksman.Net, Iraqi Al-Kadesiah (also known as Al-Kadesih) Sniper Rifle 7.62x54R
USMC Museum Reference Collection
Phoenix Defence Reference Collection