Threat Analysis: IS Marksmen in Kirkuk

The so-called Islamic State has released a video recently in a series of in-depth views of marksmen taking shots at Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers in the vicinity of Kirkuk province in Iraq. The video is titled Arrows of the Monotheists and is essentially a propaganda and recruiting effort from the Islamic State. The majority is footage from a spotter with a camera focused on a particular target while a marksman nearby fires a well-aimed shot. Then it cuts to various scenes showing the shooters either moving into position or training to get up online. A number of the shots have been cut to show a shooter taking a shot from a staged position in the rear, to the actual shot footage, thus appearing like one take of the action. These sorts of videos first became popular in OIF with the “Juba Sniper” videos that circulated among the Iraqi insurgency.

An important point that must be taken into consideration is that the video is only showing the shots that made contact with Kurdish fighters and isn’t indicative of every shot fired by IS marksmen at the Kurds. Thus, we are only looking at a small sample of IS long range precision rifle capabilities.

The weapons used appear to be a 5.56x45mm NATO M16A2, 7.62x54R SVD derivative, and what is possibly a commercial Mauser in 7.92x57mm. All rifles have either proprietary optics (SVD) or commercial off the shelf choices (modified contraption on Mauser, Picatinny rails on M16A2). The optic on the Mauser might have a tritium or otherwise glowing reticle on it due to a radioactive emblem on the side. The SVD might have limited starlight gathering abilities as many Russian SVD scopes do but otherwise the IS marksmen are limited to daylight shooting.

The overwhelming majority of the shots appear to be taken from at least 400 meters or so. In some cases closer than 200. At these ranges, all three rifles shouldn’t have any issues with point of impact due to minimal wind resistance, especially with the larger 7.62mm bullets. It also appears that the shooters are intentionally using tracer rounds. A tactical reason for this could be to adjust for follow-on shots, however, this is usually the case with machine guns and not precision rifles. Because the threat from the Kurds looks to be very minimal due to the lack of training, it looks like the actual reason for the tracer usage is for the propaganda video to show viewers the flight of the rounds.

Apart from the AR15 in use (doesn’t appear to either an A4 due to the lack of sear pin) with a Bushnell Elite 3200, shooters don’t appear to be using any bipods on their SVDs, instead of resting them on mounds of dirt or ground for more stable shots. Again, at the ranges of engagement, the IS marksmen could probably get away with this, especially at 300-100 meters and in. However, going past that range, shots are probably going to be increasingly harder to take due to more issues with stability and finding a proper mound or pack that will work at that range. Another point that we noticed is that the cameraman appears to be offset from the shooter. This indicates a highly coordinated piece because both parties have to be communicating with each other throughout the entire operation.


Infantry Marine, based in the Midwest. Specifically interested in small arms history, development, and usage within the MENA region and Central Asia. To that end, I run Silah Report, a website dedicated to analyzing small arms history and news out of MENA and Central Asia.

Please feel free to get in touch with me about something I can add to a post, an error I’ve made, or if you just want to talk guns. I can be reached at


  • Martin Grønsdal

    May God curse these arrows to return to sender…

    • Christopher Wallace


  • Audie Bakerson

    “Mauser might have a tritium or otherwise glowing reticle on it due to a radioactive emblem on the side.”

    Unless the guy stuck a scope younger than him to an ancient Mauser any radioactive material is long gone.

    • Denis Klemencic

      The scope appears to be Yugoslav, made by Zrak, with designation ON-M76B, and as such it did have radioactive Tritium, with half-life of 12.32 years. The scope was charged with a light source in order to illuminate the PSO style reticle. You are probably right with respect to radioactive material being long gone.

  • Major Tom

    When it comes to the SVD’s, the PSO-1 scope line has options for illuminated reticles.

    Also when laying a rifle down on the dirt vs bipod, you gain concealabilty by laying the rifle down. At intermediate ranges of 200-400 meters being better concealed may be more advantageous than being more precise on a bipod. At longer than 400 meters bipod wins every time but on the shorter end of that range, sometimes you don’t want to telegraph or advertise where you are thus lay the rifle down.

    • Uniform223

      2nd Lieutenant Tom…

      Your whole spiel about the advantages and disadvantages between bipod or no bipod in terms of concealment is very amateur. If the shooter and spotter are properly trained and have experience it shouldn’t matter if they use a bipod in a concealed position.

      “on shorter end of that range, sometimes you don’t want to telegraph or advertise where you are thus lay the rifle down.”

  • Dan

    Miles, you’re a Marine. Doesn’t that sure look like an M16A4 and not an M16A2??

    Scope looks like a Leupold in Leupold rings, all USGI issue at one point and time.

    ETA maybe not Leupold rings, as it looks like there’s only one bolt on each side of the ring. Look more like cheap Chinese rings that come with ncstar, etc.

    • Graham2

      Yes, Miles should know better, it’s an M16A4.

      The scope however is a Bushnell Elite 3200.

      • Graham2

        They’re $10 NC Star mounts too.

      • The Raven

        John McCain Specials.

      • Gary Kirk

        It actually looks like just an AR.. Don’t see a sear pin above the selector switch..

        • RealitiCzech

          Looks like a commercial AR offering, complete with camo job. Probably sent overseas by some of their fellow travelers here. Maybe purchased from the same allegedly F&F-involved dealer as the Nov 2015 Paris massacre gun.
          I’m sure they have plenty of USGov supplied guns as well, but I imagine those weapons aren’t acquired by sending Agent Schmuckatelli to buy up every AR in northern Virginia on his government charge card.

        • Graham2

          It’s not possible to see if there is, or isn’t, a sear pin due to the paint job. However, I bet there are more select fire ARs in that region than semi autos.

          • Gary Kirk

            K… I can see the trigger and hammer pins.. So if I wanna make an auto lower on the down low, I can just spray paint it, and the sear pin magically disappears?

      • Yeap, I should, I saw the round handguards and went Coopers Color Code Black.

  • Uniform223

    Don’t worry IS, we have more where that came from. We also have a variety of flavors too with a wide delivery options too. We also have an all American sized servings as well.

  • Xtorin O’hern

    so what i have seen from this is that ISIS snipers are no exactly the most precise

  • Hoplopfheil

    These jackals make even better video packages than the WWE.

  • John A. Smith

    “all three rifles shouldn’t have any issues with point of impact due to minimal wind resistance, especially with the larger 7.62mm bullets”

    “wind resistance?”

    • Logic

      Mix between velocity, side mm² area, g7 bc. At that range the velocity of the 5.56×45 will have really good impact on flat trajectory and low wind drift.

      • John A. Smith

        Yeah, I know; I was being snarky. I’ve never heard it called anything other than wind drift. Anyone purporting to provide a “threat analysis” loses credibility if his analysis doesn’t use the correct terminology. And wind drift from M193 or M855 is rather substantial — pushing 2 feet at 400m at 90 degrees. I’ll happily bang away with at 400m with it, don’t get me wrong, but saying POI isn’t an issue for an untrained or poorly trained shooter at that range is simply wrong.

        • Logic

          Yes, wind resistance is just a word used to describe the mix between those units that prevent too much wind drift.

          Lets assume you have such a AR15 DMR as on the picture. You get some quite good velocity out of it.

          M855 vs M80 only 79.4% the drop but by 19.4% higher wind drift @400y.

          >With double the rounds, much lighter weapon, shorter for the same barrel lenght, +10rounds per mag, less then half the recoil.<

  • Logic

    Last picture was pure skylining…. Dont stand with sky in your back…

  • m-dasher

    so basically a 10 minute video of their “snipers” missing every shot they take?

    also, pretty nice of them to use tracers…..that way we know where to return fire to.

    • Requiescat in pace

      What’s the point of tagging the enemy guys? (most of the targets suffered minor injuries)
      How come that the Kurdish are so relaxed?
      Some are even without any weapon?
      Not really a front line forward position behavior.

      • Tassiebush

        Makes you wonder if they’re actually ISIS prisoners dressed up.

    • Ark

      A lot of the guys they’re shooting at are poorly trained and even more poorly supported. There was a video that came out last week of IS snipers having a turkey shoot on a bunch of Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai who didn’t have any mortars, air support, or even optics to attempt to spot snipers with.

      There’s a lot of opportunities to shoot people who can’t do anything about it.

      • tiger

        But they are learning. That is the point to worry about.

      • Gary Kirk

        “There’s a lot of opportunities to shoot people who can’t do anything about it”

        Sounds like Baltimore..

  • iksnilol

    Resting dragunovs on handguard isn’t good due to non-free floating barrel.

    • Stable

      ? A bipod would be on the handquard too.

      • iksnilol

        Dragunov bipods are made to clamp onto the receiver, just behind the handguard. For this reason specifically. That’s why there’s two grooves (one on each side ) just behind the handguard on the receiver.

        • Stable

          Mhh, i then rather would like the forward axis point that reduces sight sway, and the smaller silhouette more than a bipod.

        • Gary Kirk

          Same with an M-16A4, with the agog.. Don’t sling up, or put any other unnecessary pressure on the barrel or you’ll pull/push your shot

  • peoplot

    so funny, american supported jihdaists fight american supported nationalists

    • Form Factor

      >Firearms not politics< Neither some conspiracy theories.

      • Ebby123

        He’s not wrong though. Its extremely well documented that the CIA created ISIS (to fight Assad), and there is some evidence that they continue to arm them.

        …just like the CIA helped created and train AlQuieda (to fight the Soviets).
        …just like the CIA created Los Zetas cartel in Mexico (to fight a rival cartel).

        Not conspiracy theories at all – well documented facts. They are inconvenient truths, which is probably why you don’t see them in the evening news much.

        • Form Factor

          >Firearms not politics<

          Further IS is rather founded by iraqi extremist prisoners, let free by corrupt iraqi jailors, after the jail was handed to them by the US as a sign of peace.

          Also the CIA supported the Mujahideen, AlQaeda and the Taliban was an radical offspring of them, who then fought against the Mujahideen.

          • Ebby123

            We actively gave ISIS arms, vehicles, and training back when they were called the “Syrian rebels”. We made them. Before our intervention they were just another bunch of ill-equipped jihadis with no central structure, training, or equipment.

          • Tassiebush

            ISIS splintered off from alqaeda then did a hostile takeover of a number of rebel groups. It was never directly supported by the US government.

          • Ebby123

            Yes they were. They were equipped en masse by the US Govt in Syria when they were fighting Assad. Back then they called them the “moderate Syrian rebels”. Everyone knew it was B.S. then – hence the controversy.

          • Ebby123

            We still gave them the guns they used to murder tens of thousands of people – with FULL KNOWLEDGE that they were violent Muslim jihadists.

            You may disagree, but I think that’s a distinction without relevance.

          • Tassiebush

            It’s a subtle difference but it’s important to be precise. It’s a bit like saying that allied support of the French in ww2 was support of axis powers because of the Germans occupying them and the Vichy French regime. Yes your govt screwed up and backed groups that were clearly far less ideologically compatible than they thought. When given the join or die ultimatum they didn’t hold out. Having said that ISIS was very aggressive in taking over Rebel groups and those that didn’t fall under it’s control are still in conflict with it. The US stopped short of arming those groups but did train and equip in other ways. Arab allies of the US do appear to have armed these groups however. The primary flow of American equipment into ISIS supplies seems to be much more from when they took large chunks of Iraq and the fleeing Iraqi forces failed to hold ground or destroy arsenals in areas being lost. Those arsenals included heaps of US supplied weapons. I’m of the view that it’s a conflict which depressingly has no obvious sides to back and because there is no single side that isn’t either hostile or has lost legitimacy through it’s actions. It’s a conflict which you can only really damage ISIS and hope for it’s end and then deal with whoever prevails.
            But it’s a stretch to claim the US armed or established ISIS.

          • Ebby123

            The problem is we’ve done this before- A LOT.
            It is not secret that we are directly responsible for creating most of the greatest terrorist organizations in modern history.

            After the fourth or fifth time, respectfully, the distinction is meaningless.

          • Tassiebush

            I think creating them is overstating it in most cases when actually you’ve really just got a a group that was given a limited period of patronage from when they were convenient allies back in the cold war. Not so different to getting along with the Soviets in ww2 despite the obvious troubles had with them subsequently. I certainly agree that involvement in Iraq was a criminal mistake and I hope a time will come when we (western Nations) disengage from the Middle East. Basically we’re just a bunch of free mercenaries for crappy local strongmen. Their fuel is no good for us when you weigh up the security, political, social and environmental impacts of it. It’d be interesting too to see how countries in the Middle East and elsewhere would behave if they could no longer use the excuse of blaming America for everything.

  • 22winmag

    What’s up with the SKY HIGH SCOPE and resting the handguard on solid rock in the 3rd photo?

    Are these accuracy enhancers I don’t know about?

  • Renato H M de Oliveira

    Un-professional soldiers, professional propagandists.
    Not a single “way to go” in marksmanship – sky high aiming, no bipods, no darkness shots, tracers, and a lot of misses.
    Clearly aimed at jihadi wannabes and gullible donors and supporters without military expertise.

  • Ark

    Those videos are all extremely selectively edited propaganda…and propaganda is the only reason a battlefield sniper would EVER shoot tracers. Take with a grain of salt the size of a 7.64x54R slug.

  • Peter Nissen

    Oh – Picture 4: the Tusken Raiders of Tatooine

  • tiger

    Hmmm….. Bad guys learning that spray & pray does not pay. Not good…..

  • FlyingGrunt28

    Clicked the video link… now I feel like the FBI is watching me.