Iraq M16 biometric tracing

Steve Johnson
by Steve Johnson

Military.com reported a few days ago that the entire Iraqi army is moving to the M16A2 and M4. Some Iraqi units have been using M16s since May last year. The move was originally announced last April.

So far, the U.S. military has helped the Iraqi army purchase 43,000 rifles – a mix of full-stock M-16A2s and compact M-4 carbines. Another 50,000 rifles are currently on order, and the objective is to outfit the entire Iraqi army with 165,000 American rifles in a one-for-one replacement of the AK-47.

“Our goal is to give every Iraqi soldier an M-16A2 or an M-4,” Scott said. “And as the Iraqi army grows, we will adjust.” – Military.com

Reasons given are logistical and that the M16 is a superior and more reliable weapon. Many think it is superior but few would say more reliable. It is easier to see the logistical benefits. I imagine training will also be easier.

The big advantage is that the rifles can be easily traced. Mexico has gone down this route by using a weapon they themselves designed. If a FX-05 “Xiuhcoatl” ends up in the hands of a drug runner, the Mexican army will know where to find the culprit who supplied it.

Last year it was reported that then an Iraqi soldier gets issued an M16 he is finger printed, undergoes a digital retina scan, and is photographed with the rifle serial number. The information is then transfered into a central database.

The weapon exchange is just the first step in a five-day program of instruction for the Iraqis. However, new rifles are not handed out in a one-for-one swap. Coalition Forces assign each IA recruit a weapon using a high-tech, biometric issue system.

Verified against a master list and having tuned in his old rifle, the IA soldier and his new M-16 continue on to one of ten biometric stations, where he is finger printed, undergoes a digital retinal scan and is photographed with the M16’s serial number. Officials then transfer the information to a database in Baghdad, to ensure accountability and to prevent the weapon from ending up in the wrong hands. – Blackanthem Military News


The BAT (Biometrics Automated Toolset) in Iraq


The DOD Biometric Task Force

My thoughts on the move to the M16

The move of course also sends money to American factories. It makes sense as hundreds of millions have been spent on arms for the Iraqi army. At the end of last year Iraq’s defence Minister Abdul-Qadir al-Obaidi announced a US$230 million deal with Serbia for what is likely to be rifles, machine guns, explosives and ammo.

Serbia has signed a US$230m (£116m) deal with Iraq to sell weapons and military equipment, the defence ministry said yesterday.

It did not specify the weapons but Serbian military experts believe they include Serbian-made assault rifles, machine guns, anti-tank weapons, ammunition and explosives. – IRAQ UPDATES


Training with M16s in Iraq. May 2007. US Army photo.

Unfortunately for the rest of us who do not own shares in ammunition manufacturers the supply of 5.56mm to yet another army at war, and who will be at war for a long time, means the price is only going to go up and up.

What does not make sense is why they do not supply them with the gas piston AR variants. Politics would be my guess. I think they had enough media attention over the body armor, they don’t want to be accused of issuing the Iraqi superior rifles.


Iraqi Army soldier loading
5.56mm ammo.
Steve Johnson
Steve Johnson

I founded TFB in 2007 and over 10 years worked tirelessly, with the help of my team, to build it up into the largest gun blog online. I retired as Editor in Chief in 2017. During my decade at TFB I was fortunate to work with the most amazing talented writers and genuinely good people!

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  • Dino Dino on Feb 12, 2009

    Interesting idea. One potential issue I see...and I will insert a qualifier...

    I am not a member of the armed forces, and I have spent zero time in Iraq, Afghanistan, or any other deployment zone. Thus any observations I make or questions I raise are solely from conjecture, based on a tiny amount of second/thirdhand exposure to "what is." That said, I try to use reason, so I hope I'm not too far off base.

    Here is the issue I see...what about friendlies (US and local) using picked-up weps? Operating system wars aside, I presume US soldiers using AKs etc. is not unheard of, and by extension, Iraqi Army guys might pick one up, for such universal and rifle-inspecific reasons as conserving/out of primary ammo, severe damage, that sort of thing.
    IIRC there was a situation in WWII, where certain US units were issued camo. They were sometimes fired upon by other US units, because up until that point, the only soldiers in camouflage were Germans.

    "Yes biometrics adds an additional layer of tracking should one of these guns go missing, but that is a secondary effort. You can accomplish the same thing with morning formation. Everyone who is not holding an M-16 please step into the office. Done."

    That's a good thought. My one thought would be to either register their current AKs (Funny I say that, but it's a different sort of situation, gov property) by serial, or add some sort of serial or tracing mark to it. Flipside is it would be ridiculously easy to supply Acme Bad Guys Supply with a list of legit S/Ns to go on new, unmarked AK recievers, probably somewhat easier than doing so with an AR that basically has to come from a machine shop, with a certain degree of fit-and-finish. That and it doesn't address the supply of 7.62x39.

    I guess I should invest in FN Herstal and Olin Corp.

    BTW, Aaron, you mention...
    "...without near religious amounts of maintenance, will jam constantly."
    For those who are Muslim, that should be pretty straightforward. When you hear prayer call, clean yourself, say your prayers, clean your weapon. And maybe look at fixing things for the US rifles, of course, whether it be pistons or polymer or whatever works.

    • Steve Steve on Feb 12, 2009

      @Dino Dino, I agree, a monring check on the weapons would be a good idea. The problem is the Iraqi army is a 3rd world army, they may have 1st class trainers, but the reality is they are a 3rd world army with a super power supply them with toys. This way the US diplomats can go to the Iraqi politicians with hard evidence that guns have been given to the bad guys and who must have known about it.

      There are photos of US soldiers with AKs in Iraqi. Apparently in Vietnam US soldiers would use the AK but find they were shot at by their own side. Don't know how true that it.

  • Lance Lance on Jul 09, 2009

    If there are so many M-16 in Iraqi hands how come most Iraqi solders I see still pack AK-47s and AKMs? I also read of Iraqi units refusing to let go of there AKs since most Iraqis operated the AK since the 1950s.

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